Philippines rushes to contain oil spill threatening several protected marine areas

The Philippines’s coast guard is struggling to contain an oil spill after the sinking of a tanker in the Oriental Mindoro region in a threat to protected marine areas.

The tanker MT Princess Empress was carrying 800,000 litres of industrialised fuel oil when it sank off the northeast coast of Mindoro Island on 28 February.

The Philippine Coast Guard is investigating the cause of the incident. The probe will determine if there are people accountable for the sinking of the oil tanker.

Despite days of efforts to contain the oil spill, officials of The Philippine Department of Environment and Natural Resources have warned that upto 21 locally managed marine protected areas may have been impacted by the spill.

The affected areas include the Verde Island Passage, a marine ecosystem that provides food and livelihoods to millions of people.

The impacted areas have seagrass beds, mangroves and dispersion pathways for spawned fish larvae.

Authorities are using oil spill booms to contain the spill, but risk to the environment remains high.

The tanker faced engine trouble and sank into the sea, prompting a spillage. Initially, it was thought that the spillage was just the malfunctioned engine’s diesel fuel.

However, after conducting a test of water samples, authorities confirmed that the industrial oil cargo had leaked. A spill was detected off Oriental Mindoro province.

The Philippine Coast Guard confirmed that the oil spill had spread over an area of more than 24 sq km.

The extent of the spillage, however, is still unknown, and it is becoming increasingly difficult for divers to reach the tanker. The vessel is now submerged 300-400m deep. The cargo was not sealed but loaded directly onto the tanker.