JUSTICE Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla on Thursday said the Department of Justice (DOJ) is now leading the case build-up for the possible filing of appropriate civil and criminal charges to be filed in connection with the sinking of MT Princess Empress which caused the Oriental Mindoro oil spill now described as the worst ecological disaster in the country.
Remulla met with officials of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Department of Trade and Industry, Department of Transportation, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to discuss possible legal actions against the operators of the vessel.
“We are sorting out the evidence so that we can file the proper complaint, we can collate all the data necessary to build up a case,” Remulla said. See related story in Nation, A5.
Remulla said every angle is being looked into by the NBI, including the alleged attempt of the operators to deceive authorities on the vessel’s operations and regulatory lapses.
The DOJ chief noted new findings indicating that the vessel was not new but was merely rebuilt from scrap twice to convert it into an oil tanker.
This was contrary to the owners’ claim that the vessel was brand new as it was built two years ago.
Remulla said investigators will also look into the angle that the incident has something to do with the company’s huge insurance.
“It was not built to be a tanker from the very beginning and we’re looking from the angle of insurance also, it seems that it has a huge insurance.”
At this week’s Senate hearing, Environment Committee chair Sen. Cynthia Villar disclosed that the vessel owner had not obtained an amended certificate of public conveyance to cover its “new vessel,” the MT Princess Empress, which implies that the latter had no authority to sail. Villar warned that such regulatory lapse could imperil attempts to draw from the reported $1-billion insurance that the owners had taken out, and which was reportedly being dangled before the oil spill-impacted communities as the source of compensation for their damage.
Remulla said a witness has already issued an affidavit detailing the real condition of the vessel and other possible circumstances that led to its sinking.
“There is a possible case, there are possible cases to be filed…We intend to do it by next week, by Tuesday … We will work over the weekend to study what we have to do on this case,” the DOJ secretary said.
Remulla said concerned government officials including him are scheduled to conduct an inspection of the extent of the damage caused by the oil spill next week.
Image credits: Oceana Phils