Oriental Mindoro oil spill

No visible signs of oil spill in Coron, Palawan, says official

Isagani de Castro Jr.

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No visible signs of oil spill in Coron, Palawan, says official

KAYANGAN LAKE. Tourist boats dot Kayangan Lake in Coron, Palawan.

Theglennpalacio, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

A municipal official says Coron has prepared oil spill booms in case they see oil slicks in the coming days as tourists flock to the popular resort town this Holy Week

MANILA, Philippines – There has been no visible sign of a “possible” oil spill in Coron, Palawan, following the release on April 2 of a US science agency map which showed images using satellite technology. 

Engineer Fernando Lopez, head of the Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (MDRRMC) of the popular resort town of Coron, told ABS-CBN News on Wednesday, April 5, that fishermen went to some of the areas identified in the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) map and found no traces of the oil spill from the sunken oil tanker, MT Princess Empress, which is 400 meters deep off the coast of Naujan, Oriental Mindoro.

“Base po sa aming patrolya at sa interbyu sa mga mangingisda, wala pa po kaming nakita na oil spill o oil slick sa Coron,” he said.

(Based on our sea patrols and interviews with fishermen, we have not seen oil spills or oil slicks in Coron.)

However, Lopez added it’s possible that the oil spill is not visible to the naked eye. 

The UP Marine Science Institute (UP MSI) said on April 3 that the satellite image detected “possible oil slicks near Coron, about 12 kilometers off of the Palawan municipality.” 

“During the time the image was taken, weaker winds were noted, making it highly possible for thicker slicks to form due to less breakage from calmer waves. The slicks seen measured at about 19 km [kilometers] in length and about 3 km in width,” the UP MSI said. 

The research institute also added a disclaimer: “Uncertainties of Satellite Observations: The total area cannot be confirmed due to multiple false positives observed and the diffuse appearance of the possible oil.” 

Nevertheless, Lopez said there are now two privately-owned oil spill booms and improvised ones on standby in case they see oil slicks not just in Coron, but also in nearby places like Busuanga and Culion. 

Lopez said the “possible” oil spill area identified in the US map – 12 kilometers from the shoreline of Coron – is part of the fishing grounds of municipal fishermen.

Lopez said he recommended to the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (PDRRMO) of Palawan that an air surveillance be done over Coron to check for oil spills or slicks. He said the PDRRMO has already sent a request for this.

Despite reports about the oil spill, Lopez said tourists were still expected to fill up airlines and hotels in Coron this Holy Week. 

Bagging operation

Meantime, the Philippine Coast Guard has uploaded images of the “bagging operation” by the Japanese Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV), Hakuyo, on the leaking tanks of MT Princess Empress. 

Coast Guard Deputy Commandant for Operations Vice Admiral Rolando Lizor Punzalan Jr. clarified in an interagency meeting on Tuesday that these bags imported from the United Kingdom would only “mitigate” the leaks but not stop the spill from the tanks that still have industrial fuel oil (IFO) or black oil.

Due to the heavy damage sustained by MT Princess, over half of the 800,000 liters of IFO on the sunken ship is estimated by experts to have already leaked.  

The Coast Guard also showed the US Navy’s Dynamic Positioning Vessel, Pacific Valkyrie, which is equipped with the ROV, Hydros. 

This new ROV contracted by the US Navy is conducting “three-dimensional mapping” of MT Princess Empress.

“ROV Hydros is a 2,000-pound ROV designed to meet the rapid deployable salvage requirements to a maximum performance depth of up to 5,000 feet. The control system has an ROV dynamic positioning capability enabling the vehicle to dive via computer instruction allowing hands-free position keeping, auto-translate movement, following pre-programmed routes, and go-to-position functions,” the Coast Guard said.

MT Princess Empress left the private port SL Harbor Terminal, operated by the San Miguel subsidiary, SL Harbor Bulk Terminal Corporation, in Limay, Bataan, on February 28, but encountered big waves and strong winds which led to its sinking off Oriental Mindoro.

As a result of the oil spill, a fishing ban has been in effect in impacted areas mostly in southern Luzon. The Department of Social Welfare and Development said a total of 37,871 families or 178,386 people have been affected by the oil spill.

These families are in Oriental Mindoro, Batangas, Palawan, and Antique. Nearly two-thirds of those affected are in Oriental Mindoro, with 24,292 families affected across 145 barangays in the province. 

Those affected in Oriental Mindoro have started filling up insurance claims forms which will reimburse them for their economic losses.

On Tuesday, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla described the sinking of MT Princess Empress as a “crime” – not an accident – as probers prepared to file administrative and criminal charges against the officers of the shipowner, RDC Reield Marine Services. Other raps against erring Maritime Industry Authority and Coast Guard personnel are also expected in the coming weeks.

A Senate hearing on the oil spill discovered that MT Princess Empress did not have an updated license to operate, but was allowed to sail nine times by the Coast Guard, including on the day it sank.

Thousands of hectares of coral reefs, mangroves, seagrass have been affected by the oil spill in parts of Oriental Mindoro, Batangas, Palawan, and Antique. The oil spill also reached Verde Island Passage (VIP) in Batangas and Mindoro, a center of marine shorefish biodiversity. – 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.