Oil spill-hit town to sue tanker owner
ARIC JOHN SY CUA, IRE JOE V.C. LAURENTE AND CHRISTIAN CROW MAGHANOY
The Manila Times
THE mayor of Pola, Oriental Mindoro, said the town plans to sue the owner of the tanker MT Princess Empress after it was revealed in a Senate hearing that it has no permit to operate. In a recorded video interview with The Manila Times, Mayor Jennifer Cruz said she wanted to hold those behind the spill accountable. “We will find a way to do something that can hold them responsible for the spill,” she said in Filipino. “It’s hard to rely on them because they did not have a permit,” she added. “Where do we go? We cannot collect from their insurance company. Who is responsible? It’s the owners. It’s under investigation and we will wait for the results of this.” Cruz was referring to RDC Reield Marine Services, owner of the Princess Empress that sank on February 28, causing a massive oil spill that has damaged the coastlines of Oriental Mindoro. At Tuesday’s hearing, it emerged that the tanker, which was carrying 800,000 liters of oil, did not have an updated permit to operate. What it had was a certificate of public convenience from the Maritime Industry Authority. The RDC Reield Marine Services has since apologized for the incident. Cruz said human hair and coconut husks are being used to build a boom for cleaning up the leaked oil. She admitted that using hair is not allowed by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). However, coconut husks and hay are more effective because the oil sticks to the fibers faster than it does to hair. “The DENR said it (use of hair) is not allowed, they gave their reasons why,” she said in Filipino. “We used to accept these in fishnets, because human hair could slip through if improperly wrapped in the nets.” The mayor said she does not understand why the DENR prohibits the use of hair to soak up the oil. “Oil sticks to hair faster,” Cruz said. “Even if our hair is wet, oil could still stick to it. Pretty sure that is the reason. As for coconut husks, oil sticks to the fibers very fast.” The Japanese Risk Reduction Management team has provided the town with an 8-meter oil snare, which could absorb up to 400 kilograms of oil. “We are sampling these at the moment in one area,” she said. Cruz said about 130 people in Pola have fallen ill because of the oil spill, 80 people are under observation, while others have since recovered. The oil from the Princess Empress has reached the shores of Calapan City, its mayor has reported. In a post on her social media page on Thursday, Mayor Malou Morillo said that light traces of the oil spill were monitored in Barangay Navotas at around 9 p.m. Barangay councilor Ranilo Magbanua told The Manila Times they smelled something pungent and when they went to the shoreline, they saw black sediment believed to be oil. The University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute (UPMSI) predicted that the leaked oil from the tanker would reach Calapan. The UPMSI had also warned that coastal areas on the northwest side of Oriental Mindoro, and Batangas province, including the Verde Island Passage, would be affected. In an advisory posted on the Calapan City Information Office social media page, Morillo asked everyone to refrain from fishing in the city’s seas, selling of products from the seas and swimming on beaches in the city. She also advised senior citizens and people with respiratory problems not to venture within 100 meters of the affected shorelines. On Friday, Caritas Philippines called on San Miguel Corp. (SMC) to take responsibility for its involvement in the Mindoro oil spill and its contribution to the growth of the fossil fuel industry in the country. The humanitarian arm of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines is demanding that the SMC stop the development of fossil gas and liquefied natural gas power plants. It said the continued use of fossil fuels not only harms the environment but also the health and well-being of people, especially those in communities that are most vulnerable to climate change. “San Miguel Corporation should take responsibility for its involvement in the recent tragedy as charterer of the MT Princess Empress, as well as its contribution to the growth of the fossil fuel industry in the country,” said Caritas in a statement. It also called for the passage of the Rights of Nature bill, which it said, “will help ensure that the environment is protected and prioritized in all decisionmaking processes.” Caritas said it is in “complete solidarity” with the victims of the oil spill that has caused “havoc” in Mimaropa (Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon and Palawan) subregion and Western Visayas. Caritas President Bishop Colin Bagaforo said authorities have yet to recover the Princess Empress and contain the oil spill that has affected 143,713 people so far. Bagaforo said the incident had also “severely disrupted” the livelihood of over 13,000 fishers. “Our hearts go out to the people of Mindoro and neighboring areas who are bearing the brunt of this environmental disaster,” he said. Environment groups like the Protect Verde Island Passage earlier criticized the SMC for its silence over the oil spill incident.