Coast guard races to contain oil spill from sunken tanker

Jacque Manabat, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 03 2023 06:26 PM | Updated as of Mar 04 2023 12:45 AM

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MANILA (2nd UPDATE) — The Philippine Coast Guard on Friday raced to clean up the spill from a sunken oil tanker in the waters off Oriental Mindoro province.

The Princess Empress sank with its cargo of 800,000 liters of industrial fuel oil as it sailed into rough seas off Naujan on Tuesday.

The PCG said expert divers could only reach 180 meters deep and the Princess Empress could be 300 meters under the sea.

“Ang challenge sa 'min kung napakalas ng oil spill ay gamitan ng boom (floatation device)…para mapaikutan yung oil spill, para pag na-contain niya, mare-retrieve namin,” PCG Spokesperson Armand Balilo said.

(The challenge for us is to use booms to contain the oil spill so we could retrieve it.)

Industrial fuel poses health risks to PCG personnel. If the situation worsens, the coast guard said it might seek the assistance of other countries such as Japan or Indonesia.

“Sabi ng mga experts mahihirapan… walang makitang paraan para ma-recover unless may mga mechanical equipment na dalhin dito from other countries para submersible. Di ko alam kung gamitin ng mahabang pump para makuha… Ine-explore at nilalatag yan ng ating mga personnel… kasama ng mga experts,” Balilo said.

(Our experts said it would be difficult. They see no other way to recover it aside from using submersible mechanical equipment from other countries. I don't know if we will use a long pump, that's being explored by our personnel and experts.)

Another vessel rescued the 20 crew members on board the Princess Empress, but it had leaked some of its cargo into the sea after initially spilling diesel fuel which had been powering the vessel, the PCG earlier said.

The PCG conducted an aerial inspection on Friday morning and observed that the oil spill's spread had gotten smaller. This could indicate that the spill was diesel fuel that had been powering the vessel, and not its cargo of industrial fuel, the coast guard said.

“Naobserbahan nila na 2-3 km na lang yung langis na tumagas ano at base sa aerial survey nila yung mag shorelines ay konti trace ng spills…
 Ang pinagpapalagay natin dito na ang tumagas ay diesel ng barko at hindi industrial," Balilo said.

"Kapag diesel kasi nawawala sa init ng araw at sa hampas ng alon at kung ito ay industrial fuel ay may palatandaan na maitim, makapal yung langis at foul order," he continued.

(They observed that it has shrunk to 2-3 kilometers and based on aerial survey, they shorelines had only little traces of spills. We think that diesel from the ship spilled, and not industrial fuel. Diesel disappears with the heat of the sun and the waves. If this were industrial fuel, it would have been thick with a foul odor.)

DENR has collected water samples.

“Dun pa lang natin malalaman kung ito ay galing sa 800,000 na dala ng barko o operational fuel lang na dala ng barko," said Balilo.

(That's when we'll know if this is from the 800,000 liters carried by the tanker or its operational fuel.)

The Department of Transportation will also investigate the oil spill, Balilo said.

“Ang laging kailangan dito mas mabilis na investigation para magkaroon ng lesson na pwede natin tignan at hindi na maulit ang kung magkakaroon man ng problema ay hindi na magkakaroon ng ganitong mga pagkakataon," Balilo said.

(A speedy investigation is necessary so that this problem will not be repeated.)

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Friday said the government is prepared to provide aid to families and individuals affected by the oil spill.

"Special attention will be given to the affected fisherfolk who will be losing their source of livelihood because of the oil spill," he said.

The PCG also advised residents from 4 municipalities in Oriental Mindoro to avoid fishing activities due to possible oil hazards.

Fishermen and tourism operators along the coast depend heavily on the waters for their livelihoods.

"We have many fish sanctuaries along the coast," said Ram Temena, disaster operations chief in Oriental Mindoro.

"It could have a huge impact due to the possibility that the oil could attach to the coral reefs, affecting the marine biodiversity."

Bongabong municipal disaster officer Michael Fanoga said fishermen had complained of a "foul smell" about two kilometers offshore.

"If it spreads in the shoreline, our beaches will be destroyed as well as the remaining coral," Fanoga said.

— With a report from Agence France-Presse

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