The town of Pola in Oriental Mindoro has been placed under a state of calamity after an oil spill from a sunken tanker carrying 800,000 liters of industrial fuel turned its seawater and shoreline black and resulted in fishkill, Mayor Jennifer Cruz said Friday.
In an interview on Dobol B TV, Cruz said she and all the barangay captains declared a state of calamity after the tanker MT Princess Empress sank near the town’s boundary with Naujan.
“You can see the oil spill in the waves. Fish were dying. Our white sand is now black sand,” she said in Filipino.
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said the government was prepared to provide aid to families affected by the oil spill.
In his social media post, President Marcos said the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) is prepared to help the families and individuals affected by the Feb. 28 oil spill.
“We are closely monitoring the situation with the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) as the lead agency. Special attention will be given to the affected fisherfolk who will be losing their source of livelihood because of the oil spill,” the President said on Twitter.
Oriental Mindoro Gov. Humerlito Dolor ordered the province’s 18,000 registered fishermen to stay on shore until it was safe to fish. In the meantime, they would receive food packs, he said.
Mayor Cruz said thousands of fishermen in her town were affected because she has prohibited fishing due to the health risk posed by the oil spill.
Swimming in the affected waters has also been prohibited, as the oil spill is threatening the region’s rich marine life and economy.
An estimated 591 hectares (1,460 acres) of coral reefs, 1,626 hectares of mangroves, and 362 hectares of seaweed could be “potentially affected” by the oil spill, Environment Secretary Maria Antonia Loyzaga said.
The tanker sank near the Verde Island Passage — a busy sea lane between the main island of Luzon and Mindoro — which Loyzaga said was “globally recognized” for its marine biodiversity.
The slick off Mindoro Island, south of the capital Manila, stretched for 120 kilometers (75 miles) and was about nine kilometers offshore, said Ram Temena, disaster operations chief in the affected province of Mindoro Oriental.
The Philippine Coast Guard is still looking for the Princess Empress, which had engine trouble and sank in rough seas off Naujan municipality on Tuesday.
Diesel fuel, which had been powering the tanker, and some of the cargo have leaked into the sea, the Coast Guard said previously, sparking concern for the environment and industries dependent on the ocean.
Coast Guard spokesman Armando Balilo said experts and major oil firms were being consulted over how to recover the industrial fuel oil from the tanker, which is more than 400 meters (more than 1,300 feet) below sea level.
“It is beyond the capability of technical divers,” Balilo told reporters. “Second, we do not have the mechanical equipment, submersible, that can dive to siphon it off without endangering (crew) lives.”
Rough seas have prevented the deployment of oil spill booms to stop the toxic material from spreading, Balilo said. Instead, they were spraying chemical dispersants on the water’s surface to break down the oil.
It is not known how much diesel fuel and industrial fuel oil are in the water.
The situation was “getting worse”, said Governor Dolor.
“It will have a big impact on us,” Dolor said. “Based on experience, the adverse effects on the community will be long term.”
The President said that he ordered the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to work closely with the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) in providing necessary aid to the local governments affected.
Mr. Marcos also thanked various major oil firms like Petron and Shell for their offer of equipment to deal with the oil spill.
The Philippine Coast Guard said the MT Princes Empress sank 400 meters into the ocean, which was too deep for divers to reach.
The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) ordered the creation of a task force that will monitor the impact of the oil spill.
The Office of Civil Defense (OCD) in Mimaropa will lead the task force, which includes the Mimaropa offices of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), Department of Health (DOH), as well as the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP), Philippine National Police (PNP), Philippine Coast Guard (PCG)-Southern Tagalog District, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Southern Luzon Command, and the Mimaropa local government units.
Shoreline assessments are being done by teams from the PCG and equipment is being deployed to contain and recover the spilled oil.
The DENR-Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) is also working with Coast Guard Substation Oriental Mindoro to sample water in the affected areas.
Combined teams of uniformed personnel and local government units are also conducting coastal cleanup operations.
On Friday, the DENR conducted an aerial inspection of the oil spill.
Led by Environment Secretary Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga, DENR officials flew into town to determine the extent of the damage from the oil spill.
Upon arrival at the command post, Loyzaga was immediately briefed by the PCG.
In a press conference, Loyzaga stressed the importance of pinpointing the exact location of the wreckage to measure the extent of damage to marine protected areas and local communities in Oriental Mindoro.
During the aerial survey, DENR officials observed an estimated 25-kilometer-long oil slick that could move toward the southern part of Oriental Mindoro once the tides shift later in the afternoon.
As of Friday, DENR confirmed that a total of more than 3,100 hectares of area was affected with the majority of 34 marine protected areas in 10 municipalities of Oriental Mindoro being hit by the oil spill.
Affected municipalities and marine protected areas in Oriental Mindoro are:
1. Calapan City – Harka Piloto Fish Sanctuary; Silonay Mangrove Conservation Area; Calero-Salong Seagrass and Coral Ree Marine Protected Area; Mahal na Pangalan Mangrove Ecopark; Maidlang Mangrove and Beach Forest Reserve.
2. Naujan – Tujod Fish Sanctuary; Buloc-buloc Cove MPA; Masaguing Fish Sanctuary.
3. Pola – Bacawan Fish Sanctuary; San Isidro Labrador Fish Sanctuary; St. John the Baptist Fish Sanctuary; St. Peter the Rock Fish Sanctuary; Stella Mariz Fish Sanctuary; Song of the Sea Fish Sanctuary; Kingfisher Marine Reserve.
4. Pinamalayan – Banilad-Simborio Fish Sanctuary; Banilad-Guinapangan Fish Sanctuary; Pili Fish Sanctuary.
5. Gloria – Agsalin Fish Sanctuary; Sta. Theresa Fish Sanctuary; Tambong Fish Sanctuary.
6. Bansud – Proper Tiguisan Fish Sanctuary.
7. Bongabong – Salcedo Fish Sanctuary; Masaguisi Fish Sanctuary and Mangrove Conservation Area; Anilao Fish Sanctuary and Mangrove Conservation Area.
8. Roxas – Paclasan Fish Sanctuary.
9. Mansalay – Palaypay Cove Fish Sanctuary; Allegria Sea Turtle Habitat; Mangal Marine Protected Area.
10. Bulalacao – Balatasan Fish Sanctuary; Maujao Fish Sanctuary; Maasin Fish Sanctuary; Aslom Island Marine Protected Area.
Also, environmental groups and DENR alerted nearby coastlines of the possibility of the spillage reaching the Verde Island Passage, a critical part of marine biodiversity located between Batangas and Oriental Mindoro.
Also on Friday, Petron Corp. on Friday heeded the call of the Department of Energy and extended assistance in the oil spill incident in Oriental Mindoro.
“We wish to clarify that the vessel was not carrying products from the Petron Bataan Refinery nor does Petron own the fuel oil cargo the tanker was carrying at the time of the incident,” Petron said in a statement.
“With major investments for the enhancement of our Refinery, Petron has stopped producing fuel oil since 2016,” the company said.
Petron facilitated the deployment of oil spill equipment needed to contain the fuel oil through Waterborne Industry Oil Spill Equipment Philippines, whose members also include other oil companies in the country.
The WISE vessel reached the incident site at 3:20 a.m. on March 1 and is now in coordination with Philippine Coast Guard.
The Petron Bataan Refinery and Petron Mabini Terminal have also extended assistance to the oil spill response team headed by the PCG and the DENR by making available its oil spill teams and equipment to further aid in containment and clearing operations.
Meanwhile, the chairperson of the House committee on ways and means called for a supplemental budget for immediate action and recovery efforts as fears grow over the widespread spillage from a sunken oil tanker carrying 800,000 liters of oil.
“We are prepared to propose and enact a supplemental budget if it comes to that. If the President requests it, we will grant it. This is an event that could have devastating consequences to fish supply and tourism, and it will definitely affect hundreds of thousands of families if it gets out of hand,” Albay Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda, the panel’s chairperson, said.