Oriental Mindoro oil spill

Sinking of Princess Empress a ‘crime,’ not accident – Remulla

Jairo Bolledo

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Sinking of Princess Empress a ‘crime,’ not accident – Remulla

CONTAMINATION. Aerial view of the Oriental Mindoro oil spill.


'This is a crime against the future of our children, environmental crime ito and we are treating it as such,' adds Justice undersecretary Raul Vasquez

MANILA, Philippines – The sinking of the oil tanker MT Princes Empress in Oriental Mindoro in February that caused a massive oil spill was a “crime” and not an accident, the Department of Justice (DOJ) chief said on Tuesday, April 4.

“As we have discussed in the DOJ, this will not be a time for the people to say na walang kaso ito (there will be no cases) – there will be cases filed. And we are determined to make sure that people do not forget that what happened was a crime, and not an accident. It was a crime,” Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said.

During a meeting with other government agencies on the oil spill, Justice Undersecretary Raul Vasquez echoed Remulla’s statement, adding that the oil spill is a crime against the environment.

“This is a crime against the future of our children, environmental crime ito and we are treating it as such. Kaya nga (That’s why) we’re trying as much as possible to avoid using the word accident dito. Because ‘pag ginamit mong accident ‘yan, magiging (because if you use the word accident, it would be) negligent act lang ‘yan and we would be effectively making a conclusion that is not based on evidence,” Vasquez said.

Thousands of hectares of coral reefs, mangroves, seagrass have been affected by the oil slick in parts of Oriental Mindoro, Batangas, Palawan, and Antique. The oil spill has reached Verde Island Passage (VIP) in Batangas and Mindoro, a center of marine shorefish biodiversity. At least 36,000 families or more than 170,000 people have been affected by the oil spill’s impact on fishing and tourism.

An administrative complaint has already been initiated by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) against the shipowner, RDC Reield Marine Services (RDC), Vasquez said.

FAST FACTS: Things to know about RDC Reield Marine Services

FAST FACTS: Things to know about RDC Reield Marine Services

“The DENR, again as a result of the first [interagency] meeting, has already initiated the administrative case against the shipowner for the determination of its liability under the pollution act, which could lead to a daily penalty from the time the unfortunate incident happened [on February 28],” he said.

Remulla said that aside from officers of the shipping company, personnel of the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) might be held liable for the disaster, as he urged those responsible to “repent” and face the consequences.

“The NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) is also investigating MARINA’s processes so that we’ll know if charges will have to be filed,” Remulla told reporters.

The justice secretary also said they want to ensure that those responsible for the oil spill will be held accountable, as he reiterated the importance of getting documents from MARINA and the Coast Guard for the filing of complaints.

MARINA deputy administrator Sonia Malaluan said they found probable cause to file complaints against the owner of the oil tanker, RDC.

She added that a resolution has been issued on the filing of formal complaints against the shipping company, but did not disclose the nature of the complaints. She added that formal complaints would also be filed against MARINA officials and personnel should they be found to be liable.

“As to the ongoing fact-finding investigation by the MARINA on its officials and personnel, we wish to provide assurance that management will really pursue any formal charge should the fact-finding investigation and process provide probable cause to really file formal charges to our officials or employees who are found to have lapses or negligence in the performance of their functions or duties,” she said.

The tanker left the private port SL Harbor Terminal in Limay, Bataan carrying 800,00 liters of industrial fuel oil but encountered big waves and strong winds early morning of February 28. It capsized and sank off the coast of Naujan, Oriental Mindoro later that day.

A Senate probe last month discovered that the MT Princess Empress, declared to be a new vessel, had not yet been added to RDC’s list of vessels allowed to travel, but it was allowed to sail nine times before it capsized. The Philippine Coast Guard defended their actions saying their personnel presumed the vessel’s license to operate were valid and regular.

Remulla revealed on March 16 that the ship was not brand new as declared, adding that it was only rebuilt as an oil tanker.

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MARINA slaps cease-and-desist orders vs owner of MT Princess Empress

MARINA slaps cease-and-desist orders vs owner of MT Princess Empress

On March 23, MARINA issued two orders against RDC: one for the cancellation of the company’s franchise or certificate of public convenience, and an order to cease its shipping operations.

Ongoing probe

During the interagency meeting, authorities said position papers from various government offices have already been submitted, but they have yet to decide on the penalties against RDC.

Both probes of the Philippine Coast Guard and MARINA were still ongoing, and they are looking into the Coast Guard stations where MT Princess Empress was cleared to sail without a valid permit. Other vessels owned by RDC have already been grounded.

Based on the updates provided during the meeting, five out of eight tanks of sunken oil tanker have been damaged and the oil from these tanks has spilled. Meanwhile, oil pollution responders are still attempting to plug the leaks from the vessel’s three remaining tanks. – Rappler.com

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New map from US shows oil spill possibly reaching Coron, Palawan

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Jairo Bolledo

Jairo Bolledo is a multimedia reporter at Rappler covering justice, police, and crime.