Spill from sunken tanker spreads across central Philippine Islands

DENR photo of oil slick
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According to local officials, the wreck of the tanker Princess Empress has been located, aiding efforts to contain her cargo of fuel oil and possibly stop the spill.

The product tanker Princess Empress sank off Balingawan Point on February 28 after losing power in rough seas. Her crew of 20 were all rescued safely by a Good Samaritan ship and no injuries were reported. However, the ship was carrying a cargo of about 210,000 gallons of fuel oil, and it began spilling petroleum into the water. On Wednesday, the spill had reached the shore near the towns of Pola, Pinamalayan, Barangay Aplaya and Bongabong on Mindoro’s east coast.

The Philippine Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) reported on Monday that it had found the wreck. Survey vessel BRP Hydrographer Ventura found the remains of the tanker in about 1200 feet of water off the coast of Mindoro, northeast of Pola. According to Oriental Mindoro Governor Bonz Dolor, the tanker’s final resting place is approximately 7.5 nautical miles off Balingawan Point. The reported wreck location will help guide ROV inspection efforts, and DENR said it is working to gain access to an ROV.

The shipowner, identified as RDC Reield Marine Services, has hired two response companies to try to control the spill. Harbor Star Shipping Services will provide oil containment and ROV services, while Malayan Towing and Salvage will provide additional support. The ROV equipment should be on site and operational by the end of the week, according to Rappler.

Meanwhile, Filipino officials are concerned about the growing extent of the spill, which has spread to a slick about 500 yards wide and 15 nautical miles long. Over the weekend, floating oil spills reached the Caluya Islands, about 75 nautical miles south of the wreck site. The area is just 20 nautical miles west of Boracay, a popular island resort known for its white sandy beaches.

“If the oil reaches Boracay, the consequences for the island will be unpredictable,” a regional tourism official told EFE.

Long-term rehabilitation of the affected shoreline on Mindoro will take longer than the immediate response to the spill, and the damage has not yet been calculated. Dozens of designated marine protected areas are threatened by pollution, including mangroves, reefs and seagrass beds, and at least seven designated protected areas are already affected by oil.

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