The oil tanker MT Princess Empress that sank and caused an environmental crisis off Oriental Mindoro was already so old it had already been scrapped—but was rebuilt and passed off to the Philippine Coast Guard as brand new, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said on Thursday.
Owing to this, Remulla said the government is eyeing both criminal and civil cases following the sinking of the tanker and the resulting oil spill that is threatening the vital ecosystem of the Verde Island Passage north of where it capsized.
“It is a rebuilt scrap… It was not built to be a tanker from the very beginning,” Remulla said. “The PCG had been told that it was brand new. But it turned out that it was already old—rebuilt scrap that was used as an LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) carrier. It was again rebuilt to become a tanker.”
The oil slick caused by the tanker may reach as far north as the resort town of Puerto Galera and Batangas by today, and thus local governments there should prepare, University of the Philippines-Marine Science Institute (UP-MSI) associate professor Dr. Irene Rodriguez said in a radio interview.
Rodriguez said the oil slick may reach ”very close” to the waters of Puerto Galera and Calapan by Thursday or Friday.
”The local government units in areas covering the Verde Island Passage in Calapan, Puerto Galera, and some areas in Batangas should prepare,” Rodriguez said.
Meanwhile, the national government and the private sector haveprovided P43 million worth of assistance to 74 areas in the Mimaropa and Western Visayas regions that were affected by the oil spill in Oriental Mindoro.
Senator Ramon Revilla Jr. also said RDC Reield Marine Service Inc., the owner of the sunken MT Princess Empress, must take fullresponsibility for causing a spill of 800,000 liters of industrial fuel, saying it should be at the forefront of clean-up efforts.
He said the ship company should not pass the responsibility for the problems which they created.
“Do not use as an excuse your insurance,” he said.
The tanker “could be 50 years old already,” Remulla added, noting there may already have been an intent to deceive authorities about its status from the start.
“The utterances after the occurrence of the fact, there may be an intent to deceive after the PCG’s claimed that it was a new vessel. We have to look into it,” the Justice chief said.
Remulla said the Department of Justice has an affidavit from a person who knew what happened with the MT Princess Empress, and how everything started. However, he said the person’s identity remains confidential for now.
“The NBI is already on it. They have the statement. They have a person who knows where the scrap was placed and where it was built. We have the details,” he said.
The Justice department is also looking at the angle of an insurance claim “because it’s a hefty sum,” Remulla said.
The Coast Guard has yet to reply about the issue as of press time, while representatives of the company that owns MT Princess Empress declined to comment.
“We will run after them. We can assure you that we will not stop. We will run after them… It’s not just a civil case. Criminal cases will also be filed against the perpetrators,” Remulla said.
According to the DOJ chief, the tanker’s owners were informed about gale warnings on February 27 before sailing. He said that on the midnight of February 28, they were again told that it would be difficult to sail as the waters were somewhat turbulent.
“They ignored the warning until it was already too late. It was an accident waiting to happen,” Remulla said.
Defense Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., who is chairman of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Countil (NDRRMC) said 31,497 families or 143,713 individuals were affected in 122 barangays, while the livelihood of 13,654 fishers were also affected.
At least 169 individuals were reported to have been injured or fell ill due to the oil spill.
A state of calamity has been declared in the towns of Bansud, Bongabong, Bulalacao, Gloria, Mansalay, Naujan, Pinamalayan, Pola, Roxas in Oriental Mindoro and in Caluya, Antique.
A total of 894 sacks of oil contaminated debris and 77.5 drums of waste for treatment were collected during the continuous shoreline clean-up activities.
President Marcos has instructed government agencies to intensify their cleanup operation and assured the affected communities that the government will extend assistance, particularly through the cash-for-work program. (See full story online at manilastandard.net)
Experts and coast guards from other countries have offered aid to the country to contain the oil spill.
A response team with a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) from Japan is expected to arrive on March 20 to help in the cleanup efforts.
The Task Force managing the oil spill in MIMAROPA in collaboration with the LGU of Oriental Mindoro would coordinate with the bureaus of Customs, Immigration and Quarantine to expedite the entry of the Japanese response team and its equipment, Galvez said.
Malayan Salvage and Towing Corporation, a private company also contracted by the insurance firm of the owner of the shipping company, was supporting offshore oil containment.
Galvez said that the Department of Transportation-Philippine Coast Guard (DOTr-PCG) will simultaneously look for an alternative ROV from a local source for the detection and recovery of the oil spill source.
The oil tanker MT Princess Empress with a cargo of 800,000 liters of industrial fuel sank last month and released a massive oil spill in the waters off Mindoro island.
Revilla pointed out that the ship owner can never undo the destruction it has caused to the country’s natural resources and marine biodiversity.
He has also cited the need to tighten the regulation on ships and tankers.
“If there is something lacking during the inspection, it is as if we allowed this accident to happen,” said Revilla.
The “great environmental crisis,” he said, could have been prevented if only the authorities implemented existing regulations properly to assure that vessels and tankers are seaworthy.
Reports said the MT Princess Empress experienced mechanical failure despite being built only in 2022.
He said authorities should ensure that each ship that sails should be seaworthy to avoid similar disasters.
Meanwhile, the Philippine Coast Guard said it collected a total of 6,600 liters of contaminated water and 57 sacks of oil-contaminated materials from its offshore oil spill response operations from March 1 to March 15.
For the shoreline response, PCG collected 1,313 sacks of oil-contaminated materials and 22 drums of waste collected at 13 affected barangays in Naujan, Bulalacao, and Pola over the same period.
Meanwhile, the Japan Disaster Response Team praised the efforts of the government to address the oil spill in Mindoro.
The JDR expert team said that the country is on the right track following their observations on the shoreline clean-up operations in a coastal barangay in Pola. The Japanese team said the joint clean-up operations have effectively minimized the oil spill’s impact at the coastal barangay.
PCG Commodore Geronimo Tuvilla requested the Japanese experts to provide the PCG with an official report on their offshore and shoreline assessment and observations on the ongoing response efforts for monitoring and documentation.