Oriental Mindoro oil spill

Fisheries damage from Princess Empress reaches P3.8 billion – NDRRMC

Isagani de Castro Jr.

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Fisheries damage from Princess Empress reaches P3.8 billion – NDRRMC

CLEANUP. Residents help the Philippine Coast Guard clean up a shoreline in the Calabarzon in this image from the NDRRMC's April 21, 2023 situational report.


(UPDATED) The latest NDRRMC situational report says a total of 24,698 fisherfolk, mostly in Oriental Mindoro, have been affected by the fishing ban that has been imposed due to oil contamination

MANILA, Philippines – The damage to fisheries from the sinking of the oil tanker MT Princess Empress in Oriental Mindoro has reached P3.8 billion, with over 24,000 fisherfolk unable to work. 

In the latest National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council (NDRRMC) situational report dated April 21, a total of 24,698 fisherfolk, mostly in Oriental Mindoro, have been affected by the fishing ban that has been imposed in large parts of the province due to oil contamination. 

The total population affected by the oil spill, including those in Batangas, Palawan, and Antique, has reached 40,897 families or 193,436 persons.  

At least 99% of the fisheries damage is in MIMAROPA, where the MT Princess is 400 meters deep in the waters off the town of Naujan, Oriental Mindoro. MIMAROPA is comprised of the provinces of Mindoro Occidental, Mindoro Oriental, Marinduque, Romblon, and Palawan.

Oriental Mindoro Governor Humerlito Dolor held a virtual Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (PDRRMC) meeting on Friday to assess the impact of the oil spill. 

Sana makalaot na ang mga bangka, yun lang ang hinihiling namin, wala naman kaming natatanggap sa cash for work e at ‘di sapat ang food pack na binibigay sa amin,” said citizen Angeline Aliparo in her post on the governor’s FB page. 

(I hope the fishing boats can go out already because the cash for work and food packs being given to us are not enough.)

Jennifer Cruz, mayor of the badly-hit town of Pola, said she expected it would take a long time before life would return to normal since oil was still leaking from MT Princess Empress. 

Although the P20,000 cash given by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to 4,000 affected Pola residents during his visit last weekend was a big help, she said this amount was not enough for the long haul. 

“Feeling ko medyo tatagal pa ‘to, kasi meron pang oil na dumadagsa sa dalampasigan kasi almost one month bago nagawa yung bag-capping,” she said in an interview with radio DZBB on Friday.

(I feel this will take a long time because oil continues to leak to the shores, because it took over a month before the oil leak was mitigated by bag-capping.)

Matagal bago nalagay yun kaya yung oil ay nandun na sa dagat, kaya tumulo ng tumulo,” she added. “Yung trajectory, papunta pa rin ng Pola.”

(It took a while before the oil leak was mitigated so the oil continued to spill. And the oil is already there in the sea and the trajectory is toward Pola.)

Marcos during his visit ordered the Department of Interior and Local Government to discuss with other local government units alternative fishing sites for the affected fisherfolk: Mindoro Strait in Oriental Mindoro; Cuyo Pass in Batangas; Tablas Strait in Romblon; and Tayabas Bay in Quezon.

Next phase

Most of the 800,000 liters of industrial fuel oil (IFO) had already leaked after MT Princess Empress sank on February 28, before two Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROV), the Hakuyo from Japan and MR2 Hydros from the US Navy, succeeded on the first week of April to cap some of the ship’s tanks and valves that were still leaking. 

Specialized bags from the United Kingdom and customized ones made by a local golf-bag-making company were used to “bag” the leaks from 11 sources of leakage.  

“One remaining pressure valve producing a slow intermittent release of oil at the 2nd Pressure Valve portside was not capped due to obstructions that may compromise the ROV operations,” the Philippine Coast Guard reported early this week, and one of the bags used to cap a leaking valve was already saturated. 

Hakuyo’s work boat, Shin Nichi Maru, left Oriental Mindoro on April 5, and the US Navy’s Pacific Valkyrie left two days later.

Office of Civil Defense Administrator Ariel Nepomuceno said on April 20, Thursday, that the next phase would be for the shipowner and its insurers to contract the services of a company that can siphon whatever remaining oil there is left on MT Princess Empress. 

“The Unified Incident Command Post-Oriental Mindoro is continuously coordinating with the Protection & Indemnity (P&I) Club for the announcement of the contracted party to perform the hot tapping/siphoning of the remaining oil on board MT Princess Empress,” the Philippine Coast Guard also said this week. 

On Wednesday, April 19, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) held the Oil Spill Recovery Plan Harmonization Activity in its central office to to discuss the “integration” of the plans of more than 10 agencies, including the Department of Social Welfare and Development, Department of Labor and Employment, Department of Health, Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, Department of Education, and Department of Tourism.

DENR Undersecretary Jonas Leones said in a press briefing that since the oil was still leaking, the government cannot yet finalize the recovery plan. 

He said the cleanup would first have to be completed before a comprehensive assessment of the damage can be done. Shorelines are still being cleaned of oil and grease in the affected areas.

MT Princess Empress, chartered by San Miguel subsidiary SL Harbor Bulk Terminal Corporation, left the private port SL Harbor Terminal in Limay, Bataan on February 28 bound for Iloilo but encountered strong winds and experienced engine trouble causing it to sink later that day.

Human boom

Meantime, residents of Isla Verde (Verde Island), where traces of the oil slick have been found, formed a “human boom” on Friday in observance of Earth Day on Saturday, April 22, and demanded justice. 

Verde Island is in the middle of the Verde Island Passage (VIP), a body of water in Batangas and Mindoro that is a global center of marine shorefish biodiversity. 

HUMAN BOOM. Residents of Isla Verde and church workers form a human boom on April 21, 2023 calling for the protection of the biodiverse Verde Island Passage as well as action and accountability on the oil spill from the sunken MT Princess Empress. Protect VIP

“This human boom is a symbol of affected communities’ unity and determination in our fight to save the Verde Island Passage from this oil spill which continues to pose threats to our health, lives, and livelihood,” said Fr. Edwin Gariguez, Convenor of Protect VIP coalition. “It is unthinkable that a disaster of this magnitude remains without punishment.”

Christopher De Castro, a fisherman from Isla Verde, said they will be faced with lower catch in the years to come due to the oil pollution. 

Nananawagan kami na pangalanan ang dapat managot at magbigay danyos hindi lang sa mga nawalan ng kabuhayan at sa pagkasira ng ating karagatan,” said De Castro.

(We demand that those liable be identified, and that they give compensation not only to those who lost their livelihood and made to pay for the damage to the sea.) 

DENR’s Leones earlier said the government was still in the process of collecting all the information and data needed for the filing of cases against RDC Reield Marine Services, the owner of MT Princess Empress.

RDC has apologized for the incident and is working with its insurers and international agencies on the cleanup operations. A claims caravan is also collecting claims forms from people who have suffered economic losses, a process that is expected to take months. – Rappler.com

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Isagani de Castro Jr.

Before he joined Rappler as senior desk editor, Isagani de Castro Jr. was longest-serving editor in chief of ABS-CBN News online. He had reported for the investigative magazine Newsbreak, Asahi Shimbun Manila, and Business Day. He has written chapters for books on politics, international relations, and civil society.