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Philippine oil spill spreads to one of the nation’s richest marine biodiversity areas

Philippine oil spill spreads to one of the nation’s richest marine biodiversity areas
Sam Chambers March 20, 2023

The oil spilled by the sunken Princess Empress product tanker has reached the shores of Isla Verde along the marine biodiversity-rich Verde Island Passage (VIP), the Philippine Coast Guard said today. The marine corridor is home to 1,700 fish species, 300 coral species and 36 marine protected areas.

The ship sank on February 28 in stormy conditions off the island of Mindoro having lost power. It was carrying 900,000 litres of industrial fuel oil on a domestic voyage, 100,000 litres more than had originally been reported.

“The forecast is that the oil spill will spread wider because, by our estimate, not all of it has really leaked out yet. If it were to be released continuously, that would be big. A lot of oil would spill,” warned Rear Admiral Armand Balilo from the Philippine Coast Guard.

The ship’s history has been brought into question. While shipping database Equasis lists the locally flagged Princess Empress as being built in 2022, the country’s justice secretary, Jesus Crispin Remulla, has said the vessel was in fact very old, a candidate for scrapping, that had been modified twice, including a period where it traded as an LPG carrier.

Hernani Fabia, administrator of the country’s Maritime Industry Authority (Marina), said last week that the controversial ship owned by Manila-based RDC Reield Marine Services did not have a permit to operate before it headed on its fateful voyage. A senate hearing also heard that the ship had travelled on nine previous voyages without the right paperwork.

Associate professor Irene Rodriguez from the Marine Science Institute at the University of the Philippines has warned the oil spill, which is spreading to popular beach destinations, could take up to three years to clean up.