Oil spill puts 8 more towns in Oriental Mindoro in calamity state
CALAPAN CITY, Oriental Mindoro, Philippines — Eight more towns in the province of Oriental Mindoro were placed under a state of calamity on Monday by the provincial board to help authorities provide aid to communities affected by the oil spill from the sunken MT Princess Empress.
The declaration covered Naujan, Pinamalayan, Gloria, Bansud, Bongabong, Roxas, Mansalay and Bulalacao out of the province’s 14 towns and one city. The town of Pola, one of the first to be hit by the oil spill, was previously placed under a state of calamity by its municipal council.
A total of 77 coastal villages in these nine towns were affected by the oil spill, according to the resolution authored by Provincial Board Member Roland Ruga and unanimously approved by the board.
The sinking resulted in the spillage of emulsified black and thick industrial oil, which posed health hazards to affected residents and severely disrupted the livelihood of more than 15,000 fishermen, resorts, and other business establishments, the resolution stated.
The oil spill also caused “serious damage” to marine protected areas in the province, it added.
On March 4, Pola Mayor Jennifer Cruz said the local government would press charges against RDC Marine Services Inc., the operator of the oil tanker.
Cruz said they have yet to get a response from the operator nearly a week after the tanker, which was carrying 800,000 liters of industrial oil, sunk off the coast of Naujan on Feb. 28.
Oriental Mindoro Rep. Arnan Panaligan on Monday said he would assist in filing a case against the operator.
In Palawan province, the local station of the Philippine Coast Guard denied reports that the oil spill from the sunken tanker has reached one of its northern coastal villages.
At a press briefing on Monday, Capt. Dennis Labay, PCG Palawan district commander, said traces found by residents in Agutaya town were from waste materials that were carried by strong waves.
Last week, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute (UP MSI) warned that the oil spill could reach the eastern and southern sides of Oriental Mindoro, including the Cuyo Island of Palawan.
According to the UP MSI, the oil spill might affect about 20,000 hectares of coral reefs, 9,900 ha of mangroves and 6,000 ha of seagrass in the provinces of Oriental Mindoro, Occidental Mindoro, Antique and Palawan, depending on its trajectory.
Found in Agutaya alone are more than 2,500 ha of coral reefs and 73 ha of seagrass, while Cuyo Island is host to 3,661 ha of coral reefs, 120 ha of mangroves and 156 ha of seagrass.
The Department of Tourism (DOT), at a briefing on Monday, said at least seven marine sanctuaries were affected by the oil spill, namely, the KingFisher Reserve, St. John the Baptist Marine Sanctuary, Song of the Sea Fish Sanctuary, Stella Mariz Fish Sanctuary, Bacawan Fish Sanctuary, St. Peter the Rock Fish Sanctuary and the San Isidro Labrador Fish Sanctuary, all in Pola town.
Beach resorts such as Bihiya Beach, 3 Cottage, Long Beach K. I, Aguada Beach Resort, Oloroso Beach Resort, Munting Buhangin Tagumpay Beach Resort and Buhay na Tubig White Beach Resort in Oriental Mindoro were also affected.
The DOT said none of the tourist attractions outside of Oriental Mindoro were harmed but even Boracay Island in the town of Malay, Aklan province, was already preparing for the possibility of the effects of the oil spill reaching its waters, the DOT added.
Tourism Secretary Christina Frasco stressed the DOT was seriously monitoring the oil spill and its “grave impact on the tourism industry, including disruptions in the livelihood of the affected communities, tourism-dependent businesses, and recreational activities.”
The sinking site of MT Princess Empress was estimated to be about 1,200 feet, or approximately 400 meters below sea level along the northeast waters of Pola town, the DENR said at a briefing on Monday.
The sunken vessel was believed to have moved southeast from its last known position but this has to be verified by a remotely operated vehicle to be deployed in the area, said Environment Secretary Toni Yulo-Loyzaga.
In a statement, the environmental group Protect Verde Island Passage called on the government to ensure that the owner of MT Princess Empress would be made accountable for the spill.