Japan sends help to assess ecological fallout of sunken Philippine oil tanker

BenarNews staff
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Japan sends help to assess ecological fallout of sunken Philippine oil tanker A volunteer collects oil spill debris from the sunken fuel tanker MT Princess Empress on the shore of Pola, in Oriental Mindoro province, Philippines, March 7, 2023.
Eloisa Lopez/Reuters

Updated at 11:45 a.m. ET on 2023-03-13

A Japanese Coast Guard team has arrived in the country to assist in efforts to assess a major oil spill that has affected fishermen and is threatening a fragile marine ecosystem in the central Philippines, officials said Monday. 

The 11-member team from Tokyo is to help evaluate the environmental fallout of the spill in the central province of Oriental Mindoro where several coastal areas have been impacted by oil that leaked when tanker MT Princess Empress sank off its shores on Feb. 28. 

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources previously said that nearly 600 hectares of coral reefs, 362 hectares of seagrass or seaweeds and more than 1,600 hectares of mangroves were in danger. 

“Let’s work together,” Philippine Coast Guard commandant Adm. Artemio Abu told reporters Monday. 

“If we’re talking about distance [of the oil spread], it’s 70 km [43 miles] from the sinking site, going to Antique in Caluya Island. It’s the farthest it has gone so far.” 

Kazuhiko Koshikawa, Japanese ambassador to the Philippines, previously promised that his country would help contain the spill. 

“We are one with you in these trying times,” he said. 

On Monday, the coast guard’s BRP Corregidor ferried more than five tons of equipment from the Japan Disaster Response Team to help in the mission. 

MT Princess Empress, operated by the domestic firm RDC Reield Marine Services, was carrying 800,000 liters of industrial fuel when it sank in rough seas off the island last month. Its 20-man crew members were safely rescued by a passing ship. 

Following the incident, officials imposed a fishing ban in seven coastal towns affected by the oil spill. 

Abu said authorities have advised local officials in affected areas to put safety nets in place to shield areas projected to be affected by the spill. 

An image provided by the National Mapping and Resource Imaging Authority (NAMRIA) appeared to show that the oil tanks on the ship were intact, and what had spilled was operational fuel, the coast guard said. 

There “are no visible leaks yet coming from its tanks,” coast guard spokesman Rear Adm. Armand Balilo said in a radio interview in Manila on Monday, adding that the tanker is 400 meters below sea level. 

However, it is not certain that the industrial fuel has not leaked. 

A satellite image shows the oil spill linked to the sinking of the MT Princess Empress tanker, March 10, 2023. [Planet Labs Inc.]


On Monday, RDC Reield, the tanker’s owner, apologized for the spill, and said it was working closely with the government as well as contracted oil spill experts to minimize the damage. 

“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. 

“We are committed to doing everything possible to minimize the ongoing impact on the environment and people’s lives and clean up the spill.” 

Focus at the moment is coming up with “a phased approach as advised by experts,” the company said, adding that tugs carrying oil spill response equipment were working with the coast guard for “at-sea containment, recovery and storage of the recovered oil.” 

The company also retained a French oil spill response firm, Le Floch Depollution, to help in the clean-up, it said.   

Meanwhile, the University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute (UPMSI) said some of the oil slick in the waters off Oriental Mindoro could end up in the Verde Island Passage (VIP) by March 16, threatening more than 36,000 hectares of marine habitat. 

Such a scenario was based on a model simulation from March 10 to 16, over two weeks after MT Princess Empress sank near Naujan town. 

“The VIP is home to endangered and threatened species, including the critically endangered hawksbill turtle, whale sharks, manta rays, dugongs, humphead wrasses, giant groupers and giant clams,” the UPMSI said. 

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. last week said that he hoped locating the sunken tanker and safely siphoning off its cargo could be done in four months. 

Jeoffrey Maitem and Basilio Sepe in Manila, and Froilan Gallardo in Cagayan de Oro, Philippines, contributed to this report.


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