Govt steps up efforts to curb impact of Mindoro’s oil spill


THE government is stepping up efforts to reduce the risk of disaster brought about by an oil spill from a sunken vessel in Oriental Mindoro on February 28.

With the sinking of MT Princess Empress which was carrying 800,000 liters of oil, scientists said around 20,000 hectares of coral reefs, 9,900 hectares of mangroves, and 6,000 hectares of seagrass may be affected by the oil slick.

“Using the modeled oil spill trajectories [Bulleting #02] and looking at higher resolution data, we approximate that 20,000 ha of coral reef, 9,900 ha of mangroves, and 6,000 ha of seagrass may be affected by the oil slick in the following municipalities. More than half of potentially affected reefs [11,000 ha] are found in the Cuyo group of islands,” the UP Marine Science Institute (UP-MSI) said in a statement.

Among the coastal sites that may be at risk are several marine protected areas (MPAs) including but not limited to the reefs in Bulalacao, Oriental Mindoro, involving some 1,100 ha of coral reefs.

Also, the UPMSI said significant seagrass beds are present in several areas, including the coastal barangays of Pola, Mansalay, Bulalacao in Oriental Mindoro.

Caluya Island in Northwestern Antique, which has a high possibility of being affected based on the oil spill trajectory model, also has significant areas of coral reefs (2,900 ha), mangroves (350 ha), and seagrass meadows (850 ha).

DENR meets LGUs

Taking the lead in the effort to contain the oil spill to minimize damage to the costal environment, Secretary Maria Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga met with Naujan Mayor Henry Joel Teves and representatives from the Provincial Governor’s Office, Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, and the Philippine Coast Guard on March 3 to assess the extent and potential impacts of the oil spill from the sunken MT Princess Empress.

Loyzaga, upon arrival in Manila, immediately reported to President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on the situation, and the plan of action of the DENR Task Force in cooperation with the Philippine Coast Guard and NDRRMC, to which the President instructed all pertinent government agencies to mobilize personnel to, among others, assist the affected communities.

According to the DENR, BRP Hydrographer Ventura of the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority (NAMRIA), an attached agency of DENR, departed from Subic at approximately 7:30 am on March 4 and is expected to arrive in the evening.

It will use a multibeam survey to locate the sunken vessel.

In collaboration with the UP-MSI, the DENR is set to perform “disaster forensics” to assess immediate actions needed to protect mangroves, seagrass, and by the DENR’s own estimate, over 36,000 hectares of coral reefs in Bulalacao, Oriental Mindoro and Caluya, Antique that can be potentially affected by the oil slick.

The DENR chief is also in talks with the Secretaries of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) and Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) to finalize arrangements on the augmentation for the cash-for-work scheme for the clean-up teams in the local communities.

DENR Task Force Commander Undersecretary Marilou Erni convened an emergency coordination meeting and briefing with the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), Department of Health (DOH). Each agency provided updates
on its operations on site and the joint efforts on shoreline cleanup operations, site assessments, surveillance to determine the exact location of the sunken tanker, and protection of marine ecosystems among others.

Meanwhile, the DENR Environmental Management Bureau MIMAROPA continues its cleanup operations using locally available oil-absorbent materials. The DENR-EMB is currently installing provisional spill booms made of cogon and sawali.

These barriers are precautions to prevent the oil spill from reaching the beach and mangrove areas of Pola, Oriental Mindoro.

The DENR is also coordinating with Semirara Mining and Power Corporation to help and assist in the cleanup operations in Caluya, Antique.

The DENR Biodiversity Management Bureau, will conduct a concurrent site assessment of the 53-ha mangrove area in Pola, Oriental Mindoro that may be potentially affected by the oil slick.

Petron joins in

Petron Corporation has started helping out in the oil spill incident.

Through Waterborne Industry Oil Spill Equipment (WISE) Philippines, whose members also include other oil companies in the country, Petron facilitated the deployment of oil spill equipment needed to contain the product. The WISE vessel reached the incident site last March 1, and is working with the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG).

Petron clarified that MT Princess Empress was not carrying products from the Petron Bataan Refinery nor does it own the fuel oil cargo the tanker was carrying when it capsized in Oriental Mindoro early morning of February 28.

“With major investments for the enhancement of our Refinery, Petron has stopped producing fuel oil since 2016. Nonetheless, the company is one with the industry in extending assistance in the oil spill incident, heeding the call of DOE Secretary Raphael Lotilla,” Petron said in a statement.

The Petron Bataan Refinery and Petron Mabini Terminal have also helped the oil spill response team headed by the PCG and DENR by making available the oil firm’s oil spill teams and equipment to further aid in containment and clearing operations.

Petron’s refinery and operations personnel are adequately trained in operational safety, disaster preparedness, and emergency response including handling oil spills, the oil firm said.