Spill From Sunken Product Tanker Reaches Resort Towns on Mindoro

Fuel oil on the beach on Mindoro, March 2 (PCG)

Published Mar 2, 2023 3:45 PM by The Maritime Executive

The fuel spill from a sunken product tanker off the island of Mindoro is spreading, according to the Philippine Coast Guard. 

The product tanker Princess Empress sank off Balingawan Point on Tuesday after losing power in rough seas. The 20 members of her crew were all safely rescued by a good samaritan vessel, and no injuries were reported. However, the vessel was carrying a cargo of about 210,000 gallons of fuel oil, and it began spilling petroleum into the water. On Wednesday, the PCG confirmed the presence of an oil spill, "black and thick with strong odor."  

In an update Thursday, the PCG reported that the spill has reached the shoreline near the towns of Pola, Pinamalayan, Barangay Aplaya and Bongabong on Mindoro's eastern coast. Spill response teams from the Philippines' Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) have been dispatched to begin a shoreline cleanup.

"These are not just traces. People are getting pails of black and sticky sludge in some places," Mindoro disaster response official Vincent Gahol told the AP. 

Images courtesy PCG

The oil slick on the water has drifted as far south as Sibale Island, a snorkeling and tourism destination in the Tablas Strait.

Seven coastal towns on Mindoro have imposed fishing and swimming bans out to three nautical miles from shore due to the health risks from the pollution. The area is home to many beach resorts and more than a dozen protected marine sanctuaries; according to the DENR, the oil could affect up to 21 different locally-managed marine reserves if it continues to spread. This includes the Verde Island Passage, one of the most biodiverse ocean areas in the world and a key habitat supporting commercial fisheries in the northern Philippines.

The quantity of fuel oil spilled so far is not known, nor the quantity remaining in the wrecked vessel's tanks. The location of the sunken tanker has not yet been identified, and a search is under way.

Once Princess Empress has been found, any response will be challenging, as the average water depth in the area is in excess of 1,300 feet, according to the PCG. This is well beyond the reach of everyday commercial diving techniques and would likely require ROV intervention. 

The surface spill response to date has focused on booms and dispersants, and the salvage tug Titan is on scene to apply a treatment mixture to the slick. 

Image courtesy PCG