Environmental and disaster management agencies in the Philippines rushed to contain an oil spill from a sunken fuel tanker that has reached coastal towns on a large central island on Friday, warning of dangers to marine ecosystems if more oil spills.
The tanker MT Princess Empress was still missing on Friday after sinking with about 800,000 liters (211,338 gallons) of industrial fuel oil en route to Iloilo province.
According to the Coast Guard, the ship had an engine failure Tuesday due to overheating and was drifting due to rough sea conditions. It was not immediately clear what caused the sinking, but all 20 crew members were rescued before it sank.
Carlos Primo David, Secretary of State at the Environment Ministry, said it was crucial that authorities find the tanker soon as there could still be a large amount of oil inside.
“If we can recover it, that will help us a lot to contain the spill,” he said at a news conference.
“Keep in mind that as more oil reaches coastal areas, cleaning up becomes more difficult.”
Environment Minister Maria Antonia Yulo Loyzaga said a rapid assessment would be made of coastal and marine habitats that could be affected.
About 591 hectares of coral reefs, 1,626 hectares of mangroves and 362 hectares of seagrass are at risk of damage, the ministry said.
“The possible contamination could actually affect the viability of these systems,” Loyzaga warned in a recorded message Thursday.
The disaster agency said in a statement the oil spill has reached the coastal areas of several communities in Oriental Mindoro, the eastern half of the island of Mindoro.
Advocacy group Earth Island Institute PH called it “a potential environmental disaster” and compared it to an incident in 2006 when a tanker carrying 2.1 million liters of bunker fuel ran aground in central Philippines.
(Reporting by Enrico Dela Cruz; Editing by Martin Petty)