Using Hakuyo, a remotely operated vehicle (ROV), Japanese experts have finally spotted the sunken MT Princess Empress that sank off the coast of Naujan, Oriental Mindoro on February 28.
The team that searched the vessel said it was around 9:42 a.m. when they finally got a glimpse of MT Princess Empress—at the exact spot just as where the BRP Hydrographer Ventura, the search vessel of the National Mapping and Resource Authority (NAMRIA), earlier said it would be.
According to a Facebook post in the Karagatan Patrol by Jessie Floren, the ill-fated vessel was located somewhere in Pola, Oriental Mindoro.
Pola was one of the hardest hit by the oil spill. Around 10 hectares of mangrove forests have reportedly been coated with oil as of March 17, the latest update from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources stated.
“The coordinates suggest that this is inside the municipal waters of Pola, Oriental Mindoro,” Floren said.
At a hastily called news conference on Tuesday, Governor Humerlito Dolor said Customs, Immigration, Quarantine, Security (CIQS) was conducted early morning on Tuesday prior to the discovery of the ill-fated vessel.
Incident Management Team in Oriental Mindoro commander, Coast Guard Commodore Geronimo Tuvilla joined the authorities in conducting the CIQS procedure on board the Japanese Dynamic Positioning Vessel (DPV) Shin Nichi Maru, which is equipped with the ROV Hakuyo on, Monday, March 20.
The PCG said RDC Reield Marine Services hired the Japanese DPV equipped with an ROV to locate and assess the condition of the sunken vessel.
At the news conference, Dolor showed photographs and videos of the sunken vessel, which appeared to be intact.
The two British nationals who were among the team that searched for the sunken vessel will be the ones tasked to analyze the data, Dolor said.
He said that in five days, they expect the owner of MT Princess Empress to come up with a report, which will be distributed to the media.
He said the report would determine whether the vessel sustained any further damage and how it can be recovered.
According to Tuvilla, the PCG will come up with a daily update of the situation. He added that the Japanese experts would draw up the plans, together with the shipowner’s other consultants.
Tuvilla also reported that a team from the United States Coast Guard arrived. An incident management meeting, he said, will be held for the benefit of the US Coast Guard.
“Of course, we will give them a briefing first, then ask them how they can help,” he added.
The underwater search for the vessel, Tuvilla said, is very important because it will help them determine what appropriate hardware will be needed. “We have already seen it. We now have an eye underneath. That’s very important,” he explained.
Case build up
THE inter-agency task force headed by the Department of Justice (DOJ) has issued subpoenas to various government agencies for the submission of important documents that would help in the ongoing case build up in connection with the sinking of MT Princess Empress, which caused a catastrophic oil spill in Pola, Oriental Mindoro.
Among those subpoenaed were the Maritime Industry Authority (Marina), Philippine Coast Guard, Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) in Limay, Bataan, where the loading of the cargo was done.
“We are in the process of, actually the subpoenas have already been delivered for all the documents we need from the different agencies, especially Marina, the Coast Guard and some other agencies that may be involved here,” Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla told reporters.
Remulla noted that the task force has sought documents from PPA to determine the specific cargoes that were loaded to the vessel before it sank off the coast of Oriental Mindoro.
On the other hand, the documents being sought from the PCG and Marina would determine whether there was negligence on the part of the two agencies that resulted in the latest environmental tragedy.
Remulla earlier disclosed initial findings that the vessel was not new but was merely rebuilt from scrap twice and was eventually converted into an oil tanker.
The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) has enforced a price freeze on basic necessities in areas affected by the oil spill in Oriental Mindoro.
DTI-Mimaropa said it released the price freeze bulletin after tanker MT Princess Empress caused an oil spill in areas of Oriental Mindoro.
According to DTI, Sangguniang Panlalawigan Resolution No. 6290-2023, which placed the municipalities of Pola, Naujan, Pinamalayan, Gloria, Bansud, Bongabong, Roxas, Mansalay, and Bulalacao in Oriental Mindoro under a state of calamity prompted the agency to order the price freeze of basic necessities.
Further, under Republic Act (RA) No. 7581 or the Price Act as amended, the prices of basic necessities under DTI’s jurisdiction are automatically frozen at their prevailing prices, DTI Mimaropa noted.
The trade department said the price freeze took effect on March 6,2023, but this shall not last more than 60 days from the said date.
With Joel R. San Juan
Image credits: Greenpeace Philippines