Philippines recommends criminal charges for ship-tanker owner in 2023 oil spill

BenarNews staff
Philippines recommends criminal charges for ship-tanker owner in 2023 oil spill Volunteers wearing protective clothing clean up an oil spill from the sunken fuel tanker MT Princess Empress, on the shore of Pola, Oriental Mindoro province, Philippines, March 7, 2023.
Eloisa Lopez/Reuters

The Philippine government on Wednesday recommended criminal charges be filed against owners of a tanker that caused a massive oil spill last year after sinking in rough waters off the central Philippines.

The leak from the MT Princess Empress was one of the worst environmental disasters to strike the country in recent years, with the clean-up lasting months and imperiling nearly 20,000 local fishermen, officials said. 

The ship, operated by Philippines-based RDC Reield Marine Services, sank on Feb. 28, 2023, while carrying about 800,000 liters (211,000 gallons) of 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 Naujan, a coastal town in Oriental Mindoro province. 

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

In a statement released Wednesday, the Department of Justice said the prosecutors’ panel had recommended indicting corporate officers of the MT Princess Empress, personnel of the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA), and one private individual “over multiple counts of falsification of private documents, use of falsified documents and multiple counts of falsification of public documents. 

“Following a comprehensive evaluation of affidavits and evidence, the panel of DOJ prosecutors uncovered irregularities in certain documents related to the construction and certificate of public convenience of MT Princess Empress,” the statement said. 

Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla told reporters that negligence could not be used as an excuse to destroy the environment and livelihood of people. 

“It is important to be diligent on land and on our waters,” he said. 

Meanwhile, Sonia Malaluan, chief of MARINA, offered to assist investigators.

“I am not aware of such a recommendation nor have I received any communication on this. But, if it is true and should the DOJ find prima facie evidence that warrants filing of the case, as Administrator of MARINA, I can assure our full cooperation,” Malaluan said.

14 PH-environmenal2.jpg
rew members of the Dynamic Support Vessel Fire Opal, seen here in this Philippine Coast Guard photo, removed the remaining oil from the MT Princess Empress in waters off Oriental Mindoro province, May 29, 2023. [Philippine Coast Guard Facebook]

In a separate statement, Jennifer Cruz, mayor of Pola in Oriental Mindoro, welcomed the DOJ’s decision, noting that the announcement of charges comes nearly a year after the incident. 

The spill continues to impact her community, she said.

“The owner of the ship should really be held accountable because until now, we can still feel the effect of the oil spill on our livelihood and our town continues to struggle to move on from the incident. We are hoping that the ship owner will pay to help in the recovery,” Cruz said. 

RDC Reield could not be reached immediately for comment about the DOJ announcement, but the ship owner did offer an apology for the spill on March 13, 2023.

“We are truly sorry that this incident has affected the livelihoods of those living in the impacted areas and the spill’s effect on the environment,” the company said in a statement at the time. “We are committed to doing everything possible to minimize the ongoing impact on the environment and people’s lives and clean up the spill.” 

Two months later, the Philippine Coast Guard announced it had begun its final cleanup phase by siphoning the remaining oil from the tanker’s cargo hold.

The country’s worst spill occurred in August 2006 when oil tanker MT Solar 1 sank off the coast of Guimaras, an island province in the Philippines. The tanker spilled over 2.1 million liters (about 555,000 gallons) of fuel. 


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