Philippines launches final phase to clean up oil spill from sunken tanker

BenarNews staff
Philippines launches final phase to clean up oil spill from sunken tanker The Dynamic Support Vessel Fire Opal, seen here in this Philippine Coast Guard photo, has started operations to remove the remaining oil from the MT Princess Empress in waters off Oriental Mindoro province, May 29, 2023.
Philippine Coast Guard Facebook

In the final phase of a massive environmental clean-up, the Philippine Coast Guard announced Wednesday that efforts were under way to siphon remaining oil from the cargo hold of a sunken tanker in waters off Oriental Mindoro province.

The MT Princess Empress, operated by Philippines-based RDC Reield Marine Services, sank in rough seas on Feb. 28 while carrying about 800,000 liters of industrial fuel oil. All 20 crew members were rescued and the tanker was located weeks later at a depth of 400 meters (1,312 feet) off the coastal town of Naujan.

The spill led to the contamination of vast coastal regions in the central Philippines. It forced officials to impose a fishing ban in seven coastal towns, and affected nearly 200,000 people as well as threatened rich marine life in the southern Luzon and western Visayas regions. 

Coast Guard spokesman Rear Adm. Armand Balilo said the tanker’s insurer hired the Dynamic Support Vessel Fire Opal to remove an estimated 120,000 to 240,000 liters (31,700 to 63,400 gallons) of oil believed to be inside the tanker’s cargo hold. The ship arrived on site late last week, and the removal could take weeks.

“But it will depend on the weather as well as how fast they work,” Balilo said in an interview with DZBB radio.

Commodore Geronimo Tuvilla, who oversees coast guard operations on the ground, said the siphoning of the remaining oil could take 20 to 30 days. 

“Once oil removal is completed, we hope that the process will pave the way for the rehabilitation of affected areas and finally transition to the normalcy of lives of affected Mindoreños,” Tuvilla said, referring to residents of Oriental Mindoro province. 

In Manila, an MT Princess Empress official said the tanker was newly constructed.

“We sincerely apologize to the communities, the local and national governments, and the agencies. Elements beyond human control such as sudden weather disturbance in the area resulted in this unfortunate event,” said Fritzie Tee, vice president of the RDC Reield Marine Services. 

The company, according to Tee, is working with the Philippine government, international oil spill experts and responders to minimize the impact.

Meanwhile, Filipino fishers group Pamalakaya called for the company to be made to pay for the ecological damage. 

The worst oil spill in the country occurred in August 2006 when the oil tanker M/T Solar 1, which was hired by the Petron Corp., sank off the coast of Guimaras, an island province in the Philippines, spilling more than 2.1 million liters (about 555,000 gallons) of bunker fuel.  

The spill was not only devastating for the environment but also for the people and the economy of Guimaras. 

In early March, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. directed government agencies to help fishermen affected by the MT Princess Empress spill.

“It took four months to clean up the Guimaras oil spill. Perhaps this time, since the amount of oil is smaller, the cleanup would be faster,” Marcos told reporters at the time. “Maybe not as quickly as one month, but I think we won’t let it reach four months.”

Mark Navales and Dennis Jay Santos in Davao city, Philippines, contributed to this report. 


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