The Princess Empress sank with 800,000 liters (210,000 gallons) of industrial fuel oil leaking into the sea.
Authorities in the Philippines are scrambling to find and secure a sunken tanker ship carrying 800,000 liters (210,000 gallons) of industrial fuel oil that has begun leaking into waters rich in coral and marine life.
The Princess Empress was en route from Bataan province, near the capital Manila, to central Iloilo province on Tuesday when it suffered engine trouble and sank in rough seas.
The Philippine Coast Guard initially reported that a spill spotted in the sea was diesel fuel from the stricken ship’s engines and not the ship’s cargo of industrial oil.
But the Coast Guard said Thursday that tests of water samples showed some of the industrial oil had leaked into the sea off Oriental Mindoro province.
The spill had spread over 15 square miles by Wednesday, the Coast Guard said earlier. It is not known how much diesel fuel and how much of the industrial fuel oil cargo is in the water.
“A ship’s structural integrity can be compromised during the sinking and a hole can form through which oil can leak under pressure,” said Vice Admiral Armand Balilo, spokesman for the Philippine Coast Guard, according to local news site GMA News Online. .
The cargo of fuel oil was loaded directly into the tanker and was not in sealed containers, Balilo said, noting that the Princess Empress sank in waters more than 400 meters deep (1,300 feet), which was too deep for divers to reach.
The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) confirms that the oil spill from the sunken motor tanker in Oriental Mindoro contains “industrial fuel oil”. Motor tanker Princess Empress transported 800,000 liters of industrial fuel oil. 📸: PCG @gmanews pic.twitter.com/Adz8OJPmRD
— Joviland Rita (@jovilandxrita) March 2, 2023
Humerlito Dolor, provincial governor of Oriental Mindoro, said a search was underway to find the tanker and plug the leak.
“The Coast Guard has assured us that they are ready to drain the oil as soon as they identify themselves [the location]”, Dolor told local media. “Unfortunately, after two aerial surveillances [flights]we still cannot find the exact location of the ship.”
The Coast Guard deployed oil spills to try to contain the leaking fuel and sprayed chemicals to break down the oil in the water. Fishermen and tourism businesses along the coast rely heavily on the waters for their livelihoods and there are concerns that these could be endangered.
The Philippine Department of Environment and Natural Resources said 21 marine protected areas were at risk from the oil spill, including the Verde Island Passage (VIP), considered one of the most diverse and productive marine ecosystems in the world, the Philippine Star digital edition reported.
According to environmental groups, the waters of the VIP Strait provide food and livelihoods for more than two million people.
Why you should be concerned about the Oriental Mindoro oil spill (one thread) ⛽:
— Greenpeace Philippines (@gpph) March 2, 2023
Oil has been spotted along a stretch of water about 60km (37 miles) between Naujan and Bongabong township, said Ram Temena, head of disaster management for Oriental Mindoro.
“We have a lot of fish sanctuaries along the coast,” Temena said.
“It could have a huge impact because of the possibility that the oil could adhere to the coral reefs, affecting marine biodiversity.”