As the president of the Philippines warned on Wednesday, it could take months to clean up an oil spill in the waters of a central province, authorities in the Philippines are scrambling to prevent an ecological disaster.
After the MT Princess Empress, carrying 800,000 liters of industrial fuel oil, sank off the coast of Oriental Mindoro last week, dozens of people in coastal villages became ill.
Now, the beaches in the nearby fishing communities are black with oil. It was earlier this week that authorities declared a state of disaster for coastal areas so that they could more easily assist those in need.
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. told reporters, “Hopefully we can finish the cleanup in less than four months.” Marcos also announced a financial support scheme for fishermen and women who help with the cleanup.
There is no longer a means of subsistence for fishermen because of this. Since they are willing to aid in cleanup efforts, we have instituted a cash-for-work program to compensate them for their time.
He continued by saying the authorities had already located the sunk tanker, which had sunk to a depth of 460 meters.
On Wednesday, members of the Philippine Coast Guard deployed a boom to contain the oil.
The full extent of the damage to the environment has yet to be determined. According to Greenpeace, the spill has already threatened the way of life for local communities that rely on the resource-rich waters, and marine scientists at the University of the Philippines have estimated that the spill could affect about 36,000 hectares of coral reef, mangrove, and seagrass.
In 2006, the MT Solar I tanker carrying 2 million liters of bunker fuel sank off the coast of Guimaras, causing the worst spill in the country’s history.
The province’s marine resources and economy suffered, and the local ecosystem was damaged across 1,500 hectares as a result.
“Oil spills, no matter how big they are, are permanent disasters,” Jefferson Chua, a Greenpeace Philippines organizer, told Arab News.
This is especially worrisome because the spill involved industrial oil, which is thought to have more severe and long-lasting impacts, and because it occurred in an area with high biodiversity and delicate marine ecosystems.
Already, he said, it had affected around 18,000 fishermen and women.
As the environmental and social disaster caused by this oil spill continues to worsen, Only in Oriental Mindoro have we confirmed damage to twenty-one marine protected areas,” Chua said.
There will be health and livelihood effects on communities, as well as effects on fish growth, local food webs, pollution, and coral reef bleaching.