The oil tanker Princess Empress, was carrying some 800,000 litres of industrial fuel when it suffered engine trouble on Feb 28 near the eastern Mindoro town of Naujan.

Coastal villages in limbo, millions in income lost a month after oil tanker’s sinking in Philippine waters
The shores of fishing town Pola on Mindoro island is one area heavily affected by the oil spill. (REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez/File Photo)

30 Mar 2023 06:53PM (Updated: 30 Mar 2023 06:53PM)

MINDORO ISLAND, Philippines: Livelihoods remain in limbo in fishing villages on the eastern oil-slicked shores of the Philippines’ Mindoro island a month after an oil tanker sank off its coast, leaking massive amounts of industrial fuel into the ocean.

At least 19,000 fishermen in nine towns on the island are now barred from fishing due to the oil spill, based on the country’s fisheries agency’s registry.

The Philippines is losing an estimated 5 million pesos (US$91,916) daily, due to this fishing ban in areas considered critical marine habitats, according to the agency.

The oil tanker Princess Empress, was carrying some 800,000 litres of industrial fuel when it suffered engine trouble on Feb 28 near the eastern Mindoro town of Naujan.

The shores of nearby fishing town Pola remain the worst hit.

Six fish sanctuaries and a marine reserve fall within Pola’s community-guarded coastal waters, protected by law due to their contribution to marine biodiversity.

The rest of Mindoro island, including dive destination Puerto Galera in the island’s north-west, also suffered losses due to implications from the spill.


Guarding the waters off Pola from commercial fishing and other hazardous activities has always been a community effort, led by a task force called Bantay Dagat or Sea Patrol.

A yearly ban from November to January on net fishing by engine-powered boats, locally called bakulong, had been in place to help the breeding and repopulation of marine species.

Pola-based fisherman Geronimo Jordan had been counting down to the lifting of the ban, until the sinking of the oil tanker brought another fishing ban that could last even longer.

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The fishing ban due to the oil spill has threatened the livelihoods of local fishermen. (Photo: AFP/Jam Sta Rosa)

“Fishermen in this village (have) lost our livelihood due to the oil spill. Our problem is how to meet our daily needs,” said the 69-year-old, who 0-spent 20,000 pesos making a new 1.5km-long fishing net.

Mr Jordan, who became a fisherman at 7 years old, had also used his life savings of 200,000 pesos to build a new boat, completing it just weeks before the oil spill occurred.

His plans to use his new boat and net for the fishing season this summer will have to be put on hold for now.

“The boat will be ruined if not used for long. The wood will crack due to heat,” said Mr Jordan.


The site of the sunken tanker is a rich fishing ground, marked by a handcrafted buoy anchored by coconut husks that attract fish.

Prior to the oil spill, fishermen in nearby towns would profit from the variety of fish in the area, earning some 30,000 pesos on a good month.

A single trip to the site could yield around 100kg of fish. 
These trips, which take place twice a week, begin before the break of dawn, with multiple fishermen on board one boat splitting the gains among themselves. 

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The area which was once a fishing hotspot, is now the site of oil waste clean-up operations. (REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez)

But what was once a sanctuary in the seas is now the site of oil waste clean-up operations, where the oil slick forms a glossiness on the water’s surface and a foul odour in the air.

Access to the Princess Empress site is still restricted, and vessels have to remain at least three nautical miles away.


Mindoro island is a popular tourist destination and key biodiversity area.

Sabang beach in Puerto Galera in the north of the island, is the main jump-off point to at least 37 world-class diving spots, including Verde Island Passage, considered the global centre of marine shorefish biodiversity. 
However, news of the oil spill has already tainted the island’s dive tourism, even though the oil has not reached the actual dive spots. 

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News of the oil spill has already tainted Mindoro island’s dive tourism. (Photo: REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez)

“There’s actually already some resorts, they have cancellations already. It is not from the local tourists, but it’s from the international tourists,” said Pedro Magsino, president of the Puerto Galera Dive Shop & Dive Resort Association.

Mr Richie O’Connell, owner of the dive centre Reef Encounters, told CNA: “[What] I’ve noticed, particularly in the last three to four weeks, is a significant decrease in people even just inquiring to come and dive here.

“There’s been a lot of cancellations. People are afraid.”

Additional reporting by Faye Sales.