Tanker responsible for Mindoro oil spill not authorized to sail

Jauhn Etienne Villaruel, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 14 2023 02:16 PM | Updated as of Mar 15 2023 01:54 PM

A fisherman walks along a makeshift barrier in the coastal town of Pola, Mindoro island on Wednesday. Authorities located a tanker loaded with 800,000 liters of industrial oil, about 7.5 nautical miles from Balingawan Point, facing Pola Municipality. The tanker sank on 28 February spilling part of its cargo and affecting the livelihood of more than 15,000 fishermen, resorts, and other business establishments. Francis R. Malasig, EPA-EFE

MANILA (UPDATED) -- MT Princess Empress, the sunken tanker that spilled industrial fuel oil near Verde Island Passage in Oriental Mindoro, was not authorized to set sail, senators found out Tuesday.

"The ship has no authority to operate in the form of an amendment to its certificate of public convenience (CPC) issued to RDC Reield Marine Services to operate the MT Princess Empress in the domestic trade," the Maritime Industry Authority's (Marina) incident report stated, according to Sen. Cynthia Villar who obtained the document.

Marina administrator Hernani Fabia confirmed the report.

"CPC is issued to a company. Sa CPC na yan, nililista ang mga vessels. Kapag may idadagdag ka na isang vessel, you have to amend. Yung RDC may pending application which we're going to hear pa sana, may kulang na mga documents, so hindi sila na isyuhan kaagad," Fabia told the Senate Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Climate Change.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros asked: "So hindi dapat na nakalayag ito?"

"Dapat po [hindi]," Fabia answered.

Officials of RDC Reield Marine Services admitted that MT Princess Empress was able to sail 9 times before it sank on February 28.

The detail emerged after Sen. Raffy Tulfo earlier asked representatives of RDC Reield Marine Services, which operates MT Princess Empress, about their $1 billion indemnity insurance that may be used as compensation for those affected by the massive oil spill.

Villar, who heads the Senate panel, then revealed that the company may have a problem claiming the insurance since the vessel had no permit to operate yet. 

"We should not wait on that anymore because they will have problem with that," Villar said.

Tulfo then lambasted the Philippine Coast Guard, which was supposed to inspect departing vessels, for allowing the MT Princess Empress to set off without a permit.

"If you did that wala sanang oil spill. Ngayon nagtuturuan kayo. Kung ginawa nyo sana trabaho niyo hindi sana tayo nag-uusap-usap ngayon," he said.

Sen. Francis “Chiz” Escudero echoed Tulfo's disappointment with the Coast Guard's supposed negligence.

“So nine times from whatever area it left port, the Coast Guard was supposed to inspect it and the Coast Guard saw that there was no amended CPC yet covering this vessel. (That means this is already the) ninth oversight on the part of Coast Guard,” he said. 

Meanwhile, RDC vice president Fritzie Tee was also confronted by provincial officials for claiming that they refused to accept their help.

“I sent my sister-in-law to meet with [Pola, Oriental Mindoro Mayor Jennifer Cruz], I think it was last week. And we specifically asked what do they need… Ang sabi po sa akin is hindi po nila kailangan o ayaw po nilang tumanggap ng tulong mula sa amin,” Tee said.

In response, Cruz said what they are demanding from RDC is a detailed and comprehensive program on how they are going to help the people affected by oil spill.

“Hindi nyo sinasabi sa amin yung clear na plano nyo sa Pola, dun sa mga damages and all that. Kailangan naming mag-usap sa provincial government,” Cruz said.

Senate President Pro Tempore Loren Legarda also stressed the need for a concerted action for containing, removing, and mitigating the damages caused by the spill, as well as addressing its impacts to health and livelihood. 

"There should be one head... We cannot have different agencies -- while well-meaning, well-funded, have the resources -- [working] without a head," she pointed out. 

During the same Senate hearing, the Office of Civil Defense reported that 122 people have fallen ill due to the oil spill.

--With a report from Sherrie Ann Torres, ABS-CBN News


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