Oriental Mindoro oil spill

Tanker owner guarantees ‘commitment’ to Oriental Mindoro oil spill cleanup

Dwight de Leon

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Tanker owner guarantees ‘commitment’ to Oriental Mindoro oil spill cleanup

OIL SPILL. The Philippine Coast Guard gathers samples of oil on March 2, 2023, after an oil spill in the waters off Naujan, Oriental Mindoro, caused by the sunken MT Princess Empress.

Philippine Coast Guard

The company that owns the sunken oil tanker hires two contractors which helped in the Guimaras oil spill to assist in the cleanup efforts in Oriental Mindoro

ORIENTAL MINDORO, Philippines – RDC Reield Marine Services, the company which owns sunken vessel MT Princess Empress, has been in hot water over its supposed poor communication with local officials on matters related to a devastating oil spill.

“[We] have been trying to message them for the last five days, but we haven’t received a response,” Pola Mayor Jennifer Cruz wrote online on Saturday, March 4. Her town in Oriental Mindoro is grappling with the oil spill’s impact the hardest.

“I will only face them if it’s the owner who will talk to me. It would be unacceptable if the owner were not present,” Oriental Mindoro Governor Bonz Dolor said in an interview on Sunday, March 5.

On Monday, March 6, a high-ranking official of RDC finally participated in a meeting with government officials – a closed-door one as requested by the company – to offer assurances that it would not evade responsibility.

Apology, accountability

During the meeting, Fritzie Tee, vice president for admin and external affairs of RDC, expressed “the company’s commitment to address the cleanup and containment of the oil spill,” according to a company press release on Monday afternoon.

Dolor, in a press briefing hours earlier, said he met with two representatives of the company who told him “we’re not just children of the owner, we are the owners.”

“Their first statement is their apology to the Mindoreño people. And for me, acknowledgment of and accountability for the problem they caused the province are the best way to move forward,” the governor said.

Tanker owner guarantees ‘commitment’ to Oriental Mindoro oil spill cleanup
Assistance from oil spill experts

RDC tapped two contractors to assist in the cleanup, both of which helped in the aftermath of the oil spill in Guimaras province in 2006, considered the worst in Philippine history. These are:

  • Harbor Star Shipping Services, whose services include providing an underwater robot that can stop the leak from the sunken ship, and suck the remaining oil from it
  • Malayan Towage and Salvage Corporation, which according to its website is known for its “marine salvage and wreck removal, coastal and inter-island towage, and oil spill and pollution response”

The two contractors will deploy remotely operated vehicles to determine the oil spill’s impact. The underwater robot equipment, which are expected to arrive within three to five days from Monday, can conduct inspections and assessments in hazardous underwater environments.

Source of income for displaced fishermen

Asked whether RDC would provide financial aid to affected residents, Dennis Futalan, who represented the company in Monday’s press briefing, said he could not answer the question as he is only part of RDC’s marine section.

But Harbor Star, one of the contractors, said it will “immediately” hire and pay displaced fishermen for their efforts to assist in cleanup operations.

Dolor, however, guaranteed that the provincial government will push for compensation from the shipping firm.

“All the damage to the environment, and damage that directly affected the people and their livelihoods, will be given corresponding compensation depending on what will be the content of the compensation guidelines,” Dolor said.

“We will reimburse from the company all we spent for oil spill-related problems, concerns on environment, damage to environment including livelihood, and properties,” he added.

Tanker owner guarantees ‘commitment’ to Oriental Mindoro oil spill cleanup
Nothing yet on rehabilitation

The oil spill puts at risk more than 30 marine-protected areas in Oriental Mindoro, which the provincial government took many years to take care of.

Harbor Star said rehabilitation efforts are out of the picture at the moment, adding that it is not what they were contracted to do.

“We can’t do anything about the sanctuaries because they’re already damaged. What we could do is to prevent more damage. So if there’s oil leaking, we would try to stop it from reaching sensitive areas like the mangroves,” Harbor Star vice president Roberto Abella said.

“Rehabilitation will follow after the evaluation of experts…how we can go back after mangroves were destroyed, they will compute that to the last detail to determine the compensation for the local government,” he added.

MT Princess Empress sank off the coast of Naujan, Oriental Mindoro, on February 28, bringing down with it 800,000 liters of industrial oil.

Time is of the essence as authorities race to contain the disaster. – Rappler.com

* All quotes in Filipino were translated into English, and some were shortened for brevity.

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Dwight de Leon

Dwight de Leon is a multimedia reporter who covers President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the Malacañang, and the Commission on Elections for Rappler.