Two weeks into tanker sinking, slick reaches Oriental Mindoro capital
CITY OF CALAPAN — The oil slick from a sunken fuel tanker reached the shores of this capital city of Oriental Mindoro on Thursday as residents of two subvillages of Barangay Navotas reported finding traces of industrial oil in their communities.
Marius Panahon, aquaculturist at the Calapan fisheries management office, in a phone interview on Thursday night, said they took photos of the oil slick stuck on the sand in the Sitio Villa San Antonio and Sitio Proper.
The spill first hit Naujan town when the MT Princess Empress capsized and later sank on February 28 in the waters of Balingawan Point. The tanker, owned by RDC Reield Marine Services, was reportedly carrying 800,000 liters of industrial-grade oil from a refinery in Limay, Bataan, and was on its way to the Visayas when it capsized and later sank due to engine trouble.
The University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute on Sunday reported that while most of the oil would still end up along Naujan town and Pola Bay in Oriental Mindoro, the weakening of the northeast monsoon winds could cause the oil earlier to go southward to northern Palawan and to flow northward to Verde Island Passage by March 16. Panahon reminded residents to follow the health guidelines from the Department of Health, advising people to avoid contact with the substance without proper protective gear.
READ: Oil spill in Oriental Mindoro threatens Verde Island Passage
In Palawan province, Capt. Dennis Rem Labay, Philippine Coast Guard District Palawan commander, confirmed that the oil spill in Oriental Mindoro reached Taytay town, particularly the island village of Casian and Barangay Calawag, which is on the mainland, on March 10 and March 12, respectively.
Labay said they also collected at least 300 liters of oil from the affected areas, adding that he visited Taytay town to oversee the inspection.
“From what we see in the area, the oil spill and its effect are so far very minimal,” Labay said in a phone interview.
The Philippine Coast Guard said an estimated 100 meters of seaweed plantation was also affected by the oil slick.
Meanwhile, Senator Nancy Binay said national government agencies must now act with dispatch to rush to the aid of fisherfolk displaced by the oil spill, mitigate its impact on the environment and stop its spread to coastal communities.
Binay, chair of the Senate committee on tourism, made the call after the Department of Tourism (DOT) announced that at least 61 tourist sites had been assessed as having been affected by the oil spill, two weeks after the fuel tanker MT Princess Empress sank in the waters off Naujan town on February 28.
READ: ‘Time is of the essence’: Sen. Binay worries about oil spill hitting tourist spots
“Time is of the essence here, and we need the collective action from both government and nongovernment groups to prevent the situation from worsening especially since the lives and livelihood of thousands of families have already been affected,” she said.
“To think that Mindoro is the summer alternative to Boracay, this tragedy is very saddening because many have already canceled their bookings for the Holy Week, and this will again deal a major blow to our tourism industry and its workers who are barely recovering from the impact of the pandemic,” she said.
“What we can do right away is to set into motion the assistance facilities of [Department of Social Welfare and Development] and activate the Tupad program,” she said, referring to the government’s cash-for-work initiative for displaced workers.
“We cannot treat this as a localized problem anymore—this is now a [distress] call,” she said.
READ: 21 protected marine areas may be affected by Mindoro oil spill
But according to the DOT, Oriental Mindoro’s destinations, such as Puerto Galera, remains open for tourism as it has not yet been impacted by the oil spill.
“We still have a lot of attractions in the area—and I would like to emphasize as well that the heart and soul of our tourism attraction in Mindoro is Puerto Galera, and we are still open for business,” said Zeny Cinco Pallugna, DOT regional director in Mimaropa (Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon, Palawan).
—WITH A REPORT FROM MELVIN GASCON
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