Ship without permit causes Philippine ‘nightmare’ oil spill
MANILA: The Philippines is grappling with the aftermath of an oil spill south of Manila, with a contractor describing the cleanup work as a “logistical nightmare” amid questions about why the ship, fueled with industrial fuel, was able to sail without a permit.
The cleanup is expected to take three to four months, with fuel quickly spreading to hard-to-reach areas, Ricardo Rodrigo Bella, vice president of Philippines-listed Harbor Star Shipping Services Inc, said in a phone interview Monday. The company will have to wait for input from several local governments and agencies before it can start work, he said.
“The trajectory is really big,” said Bella. “There’s still a threat of another oil spill.”
The tanker Princess Empress, which was carrying 800,000 liters of industrial fuel when it sank off Mindoro province, did not have a license to sail, the country’s Maritime Administration said at a Senate hearing on Tuesday.
“This ship should not have sailed. We need to find out why she was able to do this,” Senator Risa Hontiveros said during the investigation.
A volunteer collects oil spill debris from the sunken fuel tanker MT Princess Empress on the coast of Pola in the province of Oriental Mindoro in the Philippines March 7, 2023. (Photo: Reuters)
The oil spill has affected more than 108,000 people, including about 13,500 fishermen and over a hundred who have reported dizziness and vomiting, according to the country’s disaster management agency. It has turned parts of the nearby shoreline black, prompting authorities to declare a state of disaster in affected areas in Mindoro province. The Philippine Coast Guard is also working with Japan to combat the oil spill.
Unlike previous oil spills in the Southeast Asian nation, where the oil slick was concentrated in one area, the latest one had spread to other islands and there could be areas that would be difficult to reach and require technical expertise, Bella said. From Mindoro, oil had reached other provinces, including coal-rich Antique and northern beach-paradise Palawan. The presence of mangroves in intertidal areas may also require a different approach, he said.
At the same time, work has been limited to four hours a day, as recommended by the Department of Health, to protect workers from potential harm from oil exposure, Bella added. The Filipino company has been contracted to work with French firm Le Floch Deengineering on coastal cleaning and oil waste disposal, he said.
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