MANILA — The United States Coast Guard (USCG) will be looking into the country’s ongoing operation to contain the massive oil spill from the sunken MT Princess Empress off the coast of Naujan, Oriental Mindoro, during a meeting with the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) scheduled today.
Rear Admiral Armand Balilo, PCG spokesperson, confirmed yesterday that USCG officials are set to pay a courtesy call on Admiral Artemio Abu, during which the PCG will be giving a presentation on the Philippines’ oil spill response.
“We would just be making a presentation and there would be an executive briefing. They (USCG and Abu) would be briefed on the situation,” said Balilo, adding that nothing is yet certain on “what topics they would discuss.”
Earlier, Abu wrote to the US embassy to request for assistance in the oil spill cleanup.
“It will be up to the US Coast Guard on how it would respond to the request of the Commandant – if they will immediately respond and what kind of assistance they could extend,” Balilo said. “What is important is they would know the situation in the area.”
At present, while there are oil spill booms in the vicinity of Pola, Oriental Mindoro, where the oil slick from the motor tanker has drifted, these are removed in the evening, said the PCG spokesman.
Once the oil spill booms are removed, it creates the possibility that the oil would be able to reach shore, he said.
He explained that the oil spill booms were put in place by the company of MT Princess Empress, RDC Reield Marine Services, and that it also hired tugboats to keep the booms in place.
But there are limitations. At nighttime the waves become bigger and the tugboats have to leave the area. If there are no tugboats to keep the oil spill booms in place, these would drift out to sea.
The PCG is there to assist in the cleanup and does not have big oil spill booms that could have prevented the oil from crossing over and reaching the shorelines.
Balilo is hoping that the arrival of the remotely operated vessel (ROV) from Japan would solve the problem.
“From what I heard from the owner of the vessel, the ROV has siphoning capability so it could siphon the oil from the water,” he said.
The Princess Empress was reportedly carrying 900,000 liters of industrial oil when it sank last Feb. 28 some 400 meters deep in the waters off Naujan town.
Fish supply to be affected – expert
Yesterday, an expert from the University of the Philippines-Marine Science Institute (UP-MSI) warned that the country’s fish supply would be affected once the oil slick reaches the Verde Island Passage (VIP).
In a radio interview, UP-MSI associate professor Irene Rodriguez said that based on the spill’s trajectory, the oil slick is heading northward with Calapan possibly receiving most of it from March 20 to 22.
“Based on our observation on the extent of the oil slick, the tanker continues to discharge oil,” said Rodriguez, adding that with the weakening of the amihan, water currents would move the oil slick toward Calapan and Puerto Galera in Oriental Mindoro and the shores of Batangas.
She said that once the oil slick reaches VIP – the body of water between the two provinces – it will immediately result in the death of marine resources at the water’s surface, including eggs, juveniles and other organisms.
“For the long-term impact, if the oil contaminates the Verde Island Passage, it will have an impact on the source of food and diversity in the area as the (VIP) is called the center of center of marine biodiversity. As the center, all the marine resources in the Verde Island Passage are concentrated and very important in our food source and the livelihood of affected residents,” Rodriguez added.
The UP-MSI said that the damage from the oil spill may affect endemic species found only in the Philippines as well as species yet to be discovered.
“More than the food source, the decline in the population of marine resources can affect the ecosystem that provides the breeding ground, nursery ground and habitat for marine organisms,” she noted.
Rodriguez said that the use of remotely operated vehicle is crucial to finally stop the leakage and seal the sunken vessel.
“It’s been more than two weeks and it is now March 19. We still have a window of opportunity as we are at the end of amihan. We should take advantage while the area is still calm. We need to do all the things we can implement to control the spread of oil slick,” Rodriguez said.
She also suggested that the government should ban all vessels transporting oil from passing the VIP to protect the area.
“Big vessels should avoid the Verde Island Passage and instead use the west side of Occidental Mindoro. Although it is a longer route, it is safer. Crew members should also be trained on how to handle such situations,” she said.
Based on the latest bulletin of the UP-MSI, westward currents along the coast of northern Mindoro toward the VIP are forecast to be more pronounced.
‘See you in court’
In Pola, Mayor Jennifer Cruz said yesterday she is decided on filing charges against the owners of the sunken vessel over the destruction caused by the oil slick to her municipality.
“We will see them in court,” Cruz said in a radio interview, noting how Pola has not even received any compensatory assistance from the owners of MT Princess Empress 20 days after it sank and leaked oil.
“There is none,” Cruz replied when asked if any form of recompense was extended by the vessel’s owners to the town adversely affected by the oil slick. “Until now, I have yet to see them,” she added.
The mayor revealed that the Department of Justice and National Bureau of Investigation are already busy building up a case. “The DOJ and the NBI are conducting the investigation so that justice will be given to our town through the filing of a case against them,” she said.
Cruz bewailed the oil spill’s impact on Pola as having a domino effect. “Right now, we are encountering more problems. It’s not only on food. Our problem becomes bigger, it has a domino effect as all are affected, including tourism and employment,” she said.
She emphasized that long-term assistance should be given to the fisherfolk displaced by the fishing ban. Pola has a total of 533 hectares of mangrove areas and a 50-kilometer shoreline affected by the oil slick.
“We want alternative programs for our fisherfolks as experts said the cleanup will last for six months. This means our fishermen will have no source of income. Alternative livelihood programs should be given to the affected residents,” Cruz said.
Villar: Insurance payment may be in jeopardy
However, Sen. Cynthia Villar said the company that owns the ill-fated Princess Empress may not be able to collect insurance that it urgently needs to compensate both local government units and families affected by the oil spill.
The Senate committee on environment, chaired by Villar, launched an inquiry last week into the sinking of the tanker that is now causing an environmental disaster.
During the hearing, officials of the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) and the PCG admitted that RDC Reield Maritime Services did not have an updated certificate of public convenience (CPC), which is one of the requirements for such vessels to sail.
“Definitely (RDC) must pay compensation but the problem is that it is a small company. Even if they give all their resources, it will not be enough. The damage is in the billions (of pesos),” Villar, speaking in Filipino, told dzBB radio yesterday.
“There is damage to our coral reefs, to our environment—this is huge. I don’t think they can survive and will go bankrupt if they don’t have insurance,” she said, adding the committee will verify reports that the insurer has an office in the country.
The senator said if the insurance company is “kind, maybe it will pay but based on experience,” such firms find all possible ways not to pay their clients.
Reports said RDC executives assured provincial officials that they have some $1 billion in insurance but senators are skeptical due to the company’s lack of a CPC for the sunken tanker.
The company has a CPC but regulations require that it be amended to reflect the acquisition of a new vessel. The Princess Empress was acquired last November and the company filed an application for an amended CPC in December but MARINA officials told the hearing the papers are still being processed when the mishap occurred.