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Putting a ‘tight lid’ on oil spills

TOday marks one month of the oil spill disaster and it seems that the worst is far from over.

M/T Princess Empress, carrying about 800,000 liters of industrial fuel oil, capsized off Naujan in Oriental Mindoro last Feb. 28, 2023. Spilling thick oil into the sea, it was a tragic disaster that threatened not only the teeming marine life in the area but also the coastal communities whose livelihoods are intertwined with the bounty of the waters.

As the clock continues to tick away, various groups and concerned agencies called on the government to fasttrack containment and cleanup efforts. Environment groups warned that the oil could soon reach the protected Verde Island Passage — considered the “center of the center of biodiversity.” Industrial oil reaching this area would be an environmental crisis of epic proportions, one that could overturn years of protection and preservation.

Different governments around the world, such as the US, South Korea, Japan, etc., have expressed support to contain this maritime disaster and the rehabilitation that would ensue. For example, South Korea is sending today its Korean Coast Guard Response Team and technical experts. It has also pledged to ship 20 tons of absorbent pads, 2,000 sets of protective equipment, and a 1,000-meter spill boom.

On the other hand, the United States Coast Guard and some of its air assets will assist in the ongoing cleanup operations. Carlito Galvez Jr., OIC of the Department of National Defense (DND), noted that the presence of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has “considerably helped in the cleanup operations by providing rapid environmental assessments of the affected areas, identification of priority areas at risk of environmental damage, and assessment of the needs for ecosystem restoration.”

Meanwhile, last March 21, a Japanese ROV (remotely operated vehicle) found the oil tanker and sent images showing that the ship “suffered structural damage after sinking.” It was found 7.7 nautical miles from Balingawan Point in Naujan.

Finding the location of the oil tanker is good news, but there’s nothing to celebrate here. There are conflicting reports on the “health” of the ship, contradictory claims on the ship’s provenance, to different data on the scope of the oil spill damage. Setting aside the noise, there is one thing we can all agree on — this is a wake up call.

For one, there is a need for the government to invest in technology and improve response protocols when a similar incident like this would happen in the future. We couldn’t call for the ban on these oil tankers as we are an archipelagic nation.

Environmental science professor from the Mindanao State University Hernando Bacosa said that the “government should draw lessons from the oil spill that has affected 12 towns and other provinces so far.” “We have to invest in technology, we have to invest in an ROV… we have to organize ourselves as a strong force to respond to an oil spill,” he said.

The sunken M/T Princess Empress just showed that “the country lacks the technological capability to seal the leaking tanks.”
This oil spill is, sadly, emblematic of the failures in our compliance standards. Though we can’t rule out accidents happening on our seas, the least the government could do is to make sure each ship is voyage-worthy — for the protection of people, of communities, and most of all, our marine treasures.

Credit belongs to : www.mb.com.ph

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