The Japanese remotely operated vehicle (ROV) tasked to find the sunken tanker that caused a massive oil spill off Oriental Mindoro has found cracks on the ship’s surface, the mayor of Pola, Oriental Mindoro said Wednesday.
“Images show that there is a crack on the ship and the oil is leaking from it. It cannot be saved anymore, more or less,” said Mayor Jennifer “Ina Alegre” Cruz.
Oriental Mindoro Gov. Humerlito Dolor said the sunken tanker has at least 23 leaking areas.
However, the ROV Hakuyo is not capable of plugging or siphoning oil from the sunken MT Princess Empress, Philippine Coast Guard Commandant Artemio Abu said in a television interview.
Abu told News5 another vessel from Singapore may have to be contracted by the tanker’s owner, RDC Reield Marine Services, to do this task, following the “spillers pay” principle.
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. also said Wednesday there is no need to appoint an official who will lead the government’s response to control the oil spill off the waters of Mindoro Island.
“The head of the task force for the oil spill is the Coast Guard. Admiral [Artemio] Abu heads it. So, there’s no need (for another official). You see, there’s no need to organize something for everything,” Mr. Marcos said in an interview with reporters in Taguig.
“The idea is to have the assets in place so that if something like that happened, we can respond. We do not have to organize a special group, a special committee, or a special task force. They’re ready already as it is,” he added on the sidelines of the Philippine Army’s anniversary celebration.
The President said the Coast Guard is spearheading the effort because it has the assets and is also the one coordinating the foreign aid that is coming in.
Department of National Defense chief Carlito Galvez Jr. also said the government will seek the help of the country’s allies and partners to mitigate the adverse effects of the oil spill caused by the sinking of the Princess Empress off Naujan, Oriental Mindoro.
This includes expertise and technical support of other allies and partners, such as France and the United Kingdom, he added in a statement.
Galvez, who is also National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) chair, stressed that his agency is on top of the situation.
Mayor Cruz noted that trying to look inside the ship or possibly repairing it underwater will already require a different kind of contract not covered by the ROV Hakuyo’s deal.
“Their contract is only to see the boat. So we have another problem: waiting to see how much more is in the ship’s tank. That’s how it was explained to me yesterday. I asked them why it wasn’t included in the contract, they said that was the only thing asked of them,” she said.
The official noted that the Coast Guard, as well as their locals, continue to work to contain the oil spill.
Cruz said she has spoken with Department of Agriculture officials for alternative sources of livelihood for the spill-affected fisherfolk.
“We spoke with the Department of Agriculture on their program for making coconut hash. For fisherfolk who live far, we are looking at banana processing. We have bananas upland—maybe we can get those then process them here so we can sell them, instead of bringing them to Manila,” she said.
The MT Princess Empress was carrying 800,000 liters of industrial fuel oil when it went down in rough seas on Feb. 28. Thousands of fishermen have been ordered to stay on shore until they can fish safely, and swimming is also banned.
Dozens of people have fallen ill in Oriental Mindoro after oil washed up on their shores, the provincial government said. More than 2,500 hectares of coral reefs, mangroves, and seaweed could be affected by the spill, the Environment department said previously.
“This ROV [Hakuyo] doesn’t have the means to plug or control the leakage of oil from the sunken vessel,” the PCG chief said.
Besides sending another ROV sent to the Philippines to plug any leaks, Abu said it may also entail setting up pipes to siphon the oil, like what was done in Guimaras following the oil spill in 2006.
He said there is still no information on when this next step will be undertaken.
Abu said it was RDC Reield Marine Services that contracted the entities that are engaged in this major work.
“We have the ‘spillers pay principle’ and they owned up to it. From the very beginning, they are taking full accountability and responsibility through their insurance, their P&I [protection and indemnity] insurance,” he said.
The PCG is coordinating with the Japanese experts who brought in special equipment such as the ROV and oil spill boom, as well as the US aid and personnel, the President pointed out.
“Now, on the ground, the DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources), they assess to what extent was the damage, to what must need to be cleaned, what areas needed to be looked into. That’s the role of the DENR,” Mr. Marcos said.
In terms of support being extended to affected communities, whose livelihoods are impacted by the oil spill, the President said the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) is handling the provision of relief assistance.
The national government, through the DSWD has also instituted a cash-for-work program, hiring residents in the area to do an extensive clean-up drive in several provinces affected by the spill.
“So, we are even providing food packs. We are providing not only cash-for-work, but there is still assistance for those fisherfolks who cannot go fishing as of now,” President Marcos said.
“That’s a continuing effort. Of course, all of these are in coordination with the LGU, specifically in [Oriental Mindoro], Gov. [Humerlito] Bonz Dolor has been taking care of his constituency in terms of providing assistance to what they need,” the President said.
The Senate Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Climate Change earlier said it would ask Mr. Marcos to assign an official who will lead the operation on the oil spill.
The Presidential Communications Office has said the national government, local government units, non-governmental organizations, and other partners have provided a total of P28.3 million worth of humanitarian assistance to the affected families.