03/21/2023, 16.36
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Sunken tanker found off Oriental Mindoro, oil slick threatens 36,000 hectares of coral reefs

The incident, which occurred three weeks ago, is causing a major environmental disaster. Three Philippine have been affected. Fishing and bathing bans have been put in place. A remotely operated underwater vehicle located the wreck. It will take years to rehabilitate local ecosystems.

Manila (AsiaNews) – The MT Princess Empire, an oil tanker that sank off the island of Mindoro three weeks ago, has been found.

The vessel, which carried about 800,000 litres of industrial oil, capsized on 28 February; since then, the ship has been leaking fuel, threatening three Philippine provinces.

A remotely operated underwater vehicle (ROV) from Japan discovered the ship today. This is crucial to stop the fuel from further spilling into the sea.

Meanwhile, local authorities imposed fishing and bathing bans in the affected areas, disrupting tourist activities.

Speaking at a press conference, Oriental Mindoro Governor Humerlito Dolor said that it was urgent to plug the leaks and extract the remaining oil from the tanker.

Experts now warn that the oil slick created by the spill could damage some 36,000 hectares of coral reefs, mangroves and seagrass. In addition to Oriental Mindoro, the oil has reached Palawan and Antique provinces.

For environmentalists, the spill must be contained as quickly as possible, since the oil is volatile; not only does it disperse quickly leaving a slick at the water’s surface but it will eventually get heavy and sink to the bottom, contaminating substrates, rubble, mangroves and coral.

Divius de Jesus, a science specialist with Oceana, a non-profit ocean conservation organisation, said that fish and other marine species caught by fishermen could also be affected, with a definite impact on the local economy.

The island of Mindoro is also an important and fast-growing tourist attraction. In 2021 it welcomed more than 70,000 tourists, both foreign and Philippine.

Greenpeace  campaigner Jefferson Chua spoke to Rappler about his experience with the Guimaras oil spill (2006), which led to a sale ban of seafood products; it took years, he noted, to bring the waters back to a safe level and rehabilitate the marine ecosystems.

According to a report published a week ago by the National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council, at least 145,223 people, 13 marine protected areas and more than 60 tourist attractions in Oriental Mindoro have been affected by the oil spill.

Japan has already sent a coast guard team to help the Philippines in the clean-up, while the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will work closely with the Philippines to assess the environmental impact of the spill, the US Embassy in Manila said.

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