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Coast Guard belies Marina claim sunken vessel had no permit

Coast Guard belies Marina claim sunken vessel had no permit
Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza and Alyssa Nicole O. Tan, March 15, 2023

THE PHILIPPINE Coast Guard (PCG) on Tuesday night released a document showing that the sunken oil tanker that spilled 800 liters of oil off the waters of Oriental Mindoro last month had a permit to operate, contrary to a Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) finding presented at a Senate hearing earlier in the day.

In a Facebook post, the Coast Guard shared six pages of the certificate of public convenience supposedly issued by Marina to RDC Reield Marine Services, Inc., the owner of sunken MT Princess Empress, in November.

In the document, Marina approved the inclusion of MT Princess Empress in RDC’s fleet since it was “financially capable to maintain its operations.”

The certificate issued on Nov. 16, 2022 also indicated that the permit will expire on Feb. 6, 2042.

In response, RDC said it bought the vessel last year and applied for a certificate change in November to include the tanker in its fleet. It said it had completed the documentary requirements on Dec. 2. The vessel was on its ninth voyage when it sank.

The Philippine Coast Guard did not mention the November 2022 certificate supposedly issued by Marina to RDC.  It insists its workers had inspected the ship, but said there could have been lapses.

Coast Guard oil spill response incident Commander Geronimo B. Tuvilla told News 5 on Wednesday they were unable to fully explain their side during the hearing due to “pressure in communication.” “There was just no opportunity to explain further, you saw the situation there.”

At the Senate hearing, Senator Ana Theresia “Risa” N. Hontiveros said Coast Guard authorities should not have allowed MT Princess Empress to leave a harbor terminal in Bataan province in central Luzon on Feb. 28 since they did not tick seven boxes in the pre-departure checklist.

“[Coast Guard ] officers who checked the ship should be jailed for dereliction of duty,” Senator Rafael T. Tulfo said at the hearing.

Coast Guard spokesman Armando A. Balilo told a news briefing the vessel had used the permit four times in its transactions with the Coast Guard — once each in Manila, Cebu, Misamis Oriental and Iloilo.

“As far as we are concerned, we relied on this document, that’s why we allowed the vessel to operate,” Mr. Balilo said.

He said the Coast Guard would check whether the signatures on the document had been forged and whether Marina had really agreed to grant the certificate.

MT Princess Empress was carrying 800,000 liters of industrial fuel oil on Feb. 28 when it sank off the waters of Naujan Oriental Mindoro, which surrounds the Verde Island Passage, one of the world’s most diverse marine habitats.

Marine experts estimate that as many as 20,000 hectares of coral reefs, 9,900 hectares of mangroves and 6,000 hectares of seagrass could have been affected by the spill.

On Wednesday, the Coast Guard said 5,603 liters of oily water mixture and 50 sacks of oil-contaminated materials had been collected during its cleanup from Mar. 1 to 14.

It has collected 1,071 sacks and 22 drums of waste along the shores of 13 affected villages in the towns of Naujan, Pola and Bulalacao.

Meanwhile, Senator Loren B. Legarda said the government should appoint a commander who should be in charge of the oil spill incident.

“Who among the government agencies present here is in charge of all this? There should be one commander…in charge,” Senate President Pro Tempore Loren B. Legarda said in a statement on Wednesday.

“We cannot have different agencies — while well-meaning, well-funded, have the resources without a head. I call on the president to designate an overall in charge among agencies,” she added.

Senator Cynthia A. Villar has said that the Agriculture, Food and Agrarian Reform Committee would write a letter addressed to the Philippine President to officially request the appointment of a focal person in charge of the incident.

Ms. Legarda has filed Senate Resolution 540 seeking to probe the environmental, health, and tourism impacts of the spill.

Senator Francis Joseph G. Escudero asked the Office of Civil Defense and National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council (NDRRMC) to simplify processes to expedite the release of calamity funds to affected local government units.

More than 108,000 people from about 23,000 families in 118 villages in Oriental Mindoro and Palawan have been affected by the oil spill, he said, citing Coast Guard data. More than 30,000 people from about 8,400 families living in four villages in Caluya, Antique province were also hit.

OCD Deputy Administrator Bernardo Rafaelito R. Alejandro IV said they were reviewing the guidelines on the release of calamity funds, which he said would be released by April.