The possibility that the Oriental Mindoro oil spill affecting Boracay island and other areas of northern Panay is very remote, Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) authorities in Western Visayas said on Wednesday, March 1.
Commander Jansen Benjamin, public information officer of PCG-Western Visayas District, said the location where MT Princess Empress capsized early Tuesday, February 28 is around 288 kilometers from the world famous tourist island.
“Given the distance of Naujan, Oriental Mindoro from northern Panay, particularly Boracay, it is very remote that a major oil spill, if ever it occurs, will affect that part of the island,” he said.
“Based on our latest reports, the sea and wind currents are going south, while Boracay is situated in the eastern part,” Benjamin said.
Benjamin said even if the IFO spills from the tanker, its characteristics are different from the bunker oil that devastated Guimaras and parts of Iloilo in 2003.
“IFO is lighter compared to bunker oil, and it tends to dissipate or evaporate quickly,” he added.
The PCG on Tuesday confirmed a five-kilometer long and 500-meter wide oil spill but stressed that it was from the diesel fuel that powered the tanker, and not the industrial fuel oil (IFO) it was transporting from Limay, Bataan to the port of Iloilo.
Princess Empress was carrying around 800,000 liters of IFO when it capsized near Balingawan Point off the coast of Naujan, Oriental Mindoro.
The PCG Southern Tagalog on March 1, around 3 p.m., confirmed the presence and possible source of the oil spill, which it described as “black and thick, with strong odor,” 13.7 kilometers southwest of Balingawan Point, Naujan, Oriental Mindoro.
It said the BRP Melchora Aquino (MRRV-9702) launched its rigid hull inflatable boat (RHIB) to gather water samples from the area.
Initially, according to the PCG statement, “the Marine Environmental Protection Unit (MEPU) has observed a black and thick oil on the collected water samples.”
Another agency statement said it had deployed the BRP Habagat (TB-271) to serve as a marine pollution platform.
It said the shipping company, RDC Reield Marine Services Inc. contracted Malayan Towage to help with the oil spill response operation.
The MTUG TITAN has also started spraying oil dispersants in the area, said the PCG.
A crisis management committee constantly monitors and oversees an investigation into the cause of the accident.
The Coast Guard national headquarters ordered the Western Visayas regional unit to monitor the conditions of seas there after environmentalists warned of a potential spread of the damage.
The fears in Western Visayas are born of experience.
In 2006, the region had a tragic oil spill after tanker MT Solar 1, which was chartered by Petron Corp. to transport more than two million liters of bunker fuel, sank amid a violent storm approximately 20.5 kilometers off the southern coast of Nueva Valencia, Guimaras Island on August 11, 2006.
Experts estimated that around 500,000 liters of bunker oil leaked from the ill-fated tanker and contaminated the Guimaras and Iloilo Straits.
Damage was heaviest in Guimaras, which is home to the Taklong Island National Marine Reserve, a marine sanctuary for feeding and breeding ground for fish and other species.
Citing the Guimaras oil spill, Benjamin said the farthest reach of the spill at that time was in the coastal town of Ajuy, Iloilo, which is around 30 kilometers from Nueva Valencia.
Benjamin said PCG-Western Visayas has been alerted by their national headquarters to monitor their jurisdiction, particularly northern Panay and Boracay.
“We have one search and rescue vessel based here in Region 6, which we can use to respond to any eventuality apart from sea assets that the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources lent to the Coast Guard,” he added.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) was notified of the incident at approximately 1:30 PM today and immediately instructed its regional personnel to access the site.
Preliminary reports gathered state that the vessel encountered engine trouble and drifted towards the vicinity waters of Naujan due to rough seas. It then became half-submerged.
Access to the area was limited due to the bad weather. Observation of the impact has been limited to aerial survey.
The DENR is continuously coordinating with the local government of Naujan and the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG). We are monitoring the site in relation to the potential marine biodiversity impacts and the possible risk to lives and livelihoods in the area due to the direction of the current and distance from the shoreline which may be affected.
As of this time, the vessel is positioned on the eastern side of Mindoro Island at an estimated distance of 8 to 12 nautical miles. Wind direction is northwards.
The Philippine Coast Guard has mobilized certified oil spill response organizations to support the PCG operations.
With their experience in the Guimaras oil spill and the most recent spill involving a diesel-fired power barge in Iloilo City in July 2020, Benjamin said they already have in place the necessary response protocols and equipment.
“Right after learning of the Mindoro incident, we tested our oil spill mitigation equipment, and they are still very much functional. And should we need additional vessels, assets from BFAR and other agencies are also on standby for quick deployment,” Benjamin said. – Darcie de Galicia/Rappler.com
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