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DOJ eyes divers to rate oil spill, PCG says too risky

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Justice Secretary Crispin Remulla has asked the Office of Civil Defense to mobilize divers to the site of the MT Princess Empress to help measure the rate of spillage of oil from the sunken tanker and prevent it from spreading to other areas in the country.

“We want divers to come down to be able to calculate the rate of spillage to the ocean to know how much oil is pouring out of the tanker. And we asked the OCD to mobilize some of the divers to the Armed Forces,” Remulla said in an ambush interview.

However, in a television interview, the Philippine Coast Guard said diving 400 meters below sea level, where the sunken tanker is off the coast of Oriental Mindoro, is very dangerous for any diver and may result in their death.

“It’s highly not recommended. That’s why we have an ROV (remotely operated vehicle to look for the ship). In the very beginning, if it could be dived by a person, we would have done it already. But this depth is really different,” Commodore Geronimo Tuvilla, Incident Commander of Oil Spill Response Mindoro, told ABS-CBN News.

Most technical or expert divers can dive safely down to 100 meters (328 feet) but would still need special equipment to do so, the ABS-CBN report added.

Still, Remulla said the government has also hired a consultant to calculate how much oil, if any, is still left from the 900,000 liters of industrial fuel the tanker carried before sinking.

The Department of Justice chief said this was discussed with Defense Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. during the meeting Thursday of the Oil Spill Inter-Agency Committee.

A group of fishermen in Oriental Mindoro, the Samahang Mandaragat ng Banilad, want to sue the owner of the MT Princess Empress for the damage the tanker caused to their livelihood, their president Bernie Senorin said in a TV interview.

Meanwhile, the South Korean government has dispatched its coast guard to help in the cleanup of the oil spill off Naujan town.

“This is the first time Korea has provided assistance for the prevention of marine pollution, and Korea highly values the importance of restoring areas affected by environmental disasters and accidents,” the Korean Embassy in Manila said in a Facebook post on Thursday.

The Korean government would also give 20 tons of sorbet pads and snares, 1,000 meters of solid flotation curtain boom, and 2,000 sets of personal protective equipment (PPE) to the Philippines.

The PCG said the Korean government would also provide technical experts.

MT Princess Empress was carrying about 900,000 liters of industrial fuel oil when it sank due to strong waves on Feb. 28. All 20 people on board were rescued.

As of Thursday, a total of 163,498 people or 34,553 families in Mimaropa and Western Visayas have been affected by the oil spill, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) said.

A state of calamity was declared in 10 cities and municipalities, it added.

At least 192 people fell ill due to the oil spill.

Senate President Pro Tempore Loren Legarda and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) reached out to communities affected by the massive oil spill.

In cooperation with the local government of Oriental Mindoro, Legarda’s office and the DSWD provided P2,000 worth of aid under the Assistance to Individuals in Crisis Situations (AICS) program to 500 fishermen and distributed 2,000 food packs to the affected families in the municipality of Pola.

Aside from Pola, the municipalities of Naujan, Bongabong, Pinamalayan, Roxas, Gloria, Bansud, Mansalay, Bulalacao, and Calapan are also affected by the oil spill as identified by the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (PDRRMO) of Oriental Mindoro.

Legarda also met with DSWD Secretary Rex Gatchalian to discuss the other assistance needed.

On March 10, Legarda called on the concerned Senate committee, with the cooperation of all government agencies, to immediately conduct an inquiry on the environmental, health, and tourism impact of the oil spil.

The PCG, meanwhile, has sought the assistance of the International Oil Pollution Compensation Funds (IOPCF) to boost the country’s efforts in cleaning up the oil spill off Naujan town in Oriental Mindoro. (See full story online at

In a statement on Friday, the PCG said aid from the IOPCF would help speed up the acquisition of remotely-operated vehicles (ROVs).

The ROV Hakuyo was previously used by the Japanese Dynamic Positioning Vessel Shin Nichi Maru to locate the sunken MT Princess Empress and found that all eight of its compartments were leaking industrial oil.

PCG Admiral Artemio Abu also sought assistance from P&I London, a group of protection and indemnity insurance companies for mutual maritime insurance representing global ship owners.

Earlier, Korean Minister Jong Soon Chang and Third Secretary Kim Dosik met with Abu and announced the upcoming arrival of the Korean Coast Guard Response Team and technical experts on March 28.

The United States government is providing an additional P10 million in

assistance to support Oriental Mindoro’s oil spill management and

environmental assessment.

The US Embassy in Manila on Friday said the support would be used to train fishermen displaced by the fishing ban as “citizen scientists” who can conduct coastal habitat assessments in the province.

Through its partnership with the ABS-CBN Foundation Inc., the US Agency for International Development (USAID), will also assess and monitor the impact of the oil spill on the coastal communities in the Verde Island Passage.

USAID Philippines Mission Director Ryan Washburn had earlier handed over the first batch of personal protective equipment, hygiene kits, and spill cleaning supplies to Oriental Mindoro Governor Humerlito Dolor.

“Many communities in the province depend on the tourism and fisheries industries for their livelihoods, and we know that this makes the recent oil spill in your waters an even bigger crisis,” he said during his visit to Oriental Mindoro this week.

“As your enduring friend, partner, and ally, the United States remains committed to support your journey to recovery, and to continue our partnership toward the protection and conservation of this region’s rich coastal and marine resources,” he added.

Earlier this week, a team of experts from the US Coast Guard and the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration arrived in Pola town to provide subject matter expertise in the cleanup.

The US has also provided satellite imagery and modeling applications to help the Philippine Coast Guard and the University of the Philippines-Marine Sciences Institute estimate the trajectory of the spill.


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