More fall ill due to spill; oil slick reaches Palawan
CITY OF CALAPAN — At least 81 residents in the coastal villages of Pola town in Oriental Mindoro have fallen ill due to the industrial oil spilled by the sunken tanker MT Princess Empress that has washed to the shores of the province and has spread to as far as the waters of Palawan.
In a report on Friday, the Oriental Mindoro provincial health office (PHO) said most of those getting sick suffered from nausea, vomiting, loose bowel movement, sore throat, eye irritation, back pain, fever, difficulty in breathing and headaches believed to have been caused by the fumes and foul odor coming from the spilled oil.
According to the PHO, most of the patients were children ages 2 to 17 and elderly residents ages 60 to 75.
Pola was the first among the nine towns in the province to declare a state of calamity last week due to the widespread oil spill, which was still being contained by the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and other government agencies and private organizations.
Officials of the affected towns and villages have been asking villagers to stay away from the coastline where the waters have been covered by thick and black oil due to the health risks posed by the industrial oil spilled by MT Princess Empress when it sank on February 28 in the waters off Naujan town in Oriental Mindoro.
The spillage, which has also endangered marine protected areas in Oriental Mindoro, has since spread to its neighboring provinces, first in Antique and now in Palawan.
On March 6, the Oriental Mindoro provincial board passed a resolution declaring 77 coastal villages from nine municipalities under a state of calamity to immediately help some 19,000 affected families, most of them fishermen.
Task Force Pola was also activated to pursue legal actions against RDC Reield Marine Services Inc. (RDC), the operator of the sunken tanker, due to the oil spill’s impact on the environment and livelihood of the town and the entire province, according to the PCG.
In a chat message on Thursday, Pola Mayor Jennifer Cruz said the task force has discussed moves to sue the tanker’s owner “for the damage incurred” by the town, adding that the local government was “serious” about holding the tanker’s operator responsible for the ill effects of the spillage.
The Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) has already issued a show cause order to RDC to explain what happened. It also suspended RDC’s safety certificate.
According to Sharon Aledo, spokesperson for Marina, MT Princess Empress is covered by a $1-billion protection and indemnity insurance for “every incident” including an oil spill.
The oil tanker was carrying 800,000 liters of industrial oil, also called “black oil,” considered to be highly toxic and harmful to the environment, when it sank.
The Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office said it had started hard assessments and fuel fingerprinting in all of the affected villages to determine the extent of the environmental damage.
In Palawan, Capt. Dennis Rem Labay, Coast Guard Palawan district commander, confirmed the presence of an oil slick in Casian, an island village of Taytay town north of the province, noting that it was likely from the MT Princess Empress.
“A few hours ago, we verified the presence of oil in the area. But as to the volume of oil and how long it has been affected, we are still checking,” Labay told the Inquirer on Friday.
Citing photos captured from the affected area, Labay said the volume was “not really alarming” and a cleanup operation was underway.
“At a distance of about 300 kilometers from where the tanker sank and considering that it has been 10 days, there is a big possibility that it is from there,” he said.
The barangay is 159 nautical miles or 295 km south of the waters of Naujan.
The PCG said it has deployed personnel to Casian to clean up the oil slick along its beaches.
The PCG has previously installed booms in the waters off Naujan as part of its containment and recovery operations.
In a statement on Monday, Fritzie Tee, RDC vice president for external affairs, expressed “the company’s commitment to address the cleanup and containment of the oil spill.”
RDC said it tapped two contractors, Harbor Star Shipping Services and Malayan Towage and Salvage Corp., to assist in the cleanup. Both companies helped in the aftermath of the oil spill in Guimaras province in August 2006, considered the worst in Philippine history.
The PCG said Japan would send a disaster relief expert team on oil removal and control to augment the country’s manpower and assets. The United States and South Korea also committed to help the country.
PCG spokesperson Rear Adm. Armando Balilo earlier admitted it would be difficult for responders to conduct salvage operations because the vessel sank at a depth of 400 meters and the agency has no submersible mechanical equipment that can reach the area to siphon off the industrial fuel.
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