Volunteers dressed in personal protective equipment clean up the oil spill from the sunken fuel tanker MT Princess Empress, on the shore of Pola, in Oriental Mindoro province on March 7, 2023. – Reuters
Dozens of people in the Philippines have fallen ill after oil from a sunken tanker washed up on their shores, officials said Wednesday, as authorities struggled to reach the leaking vessel.
The Princess Empress was carrying 800,000 litres (210,000 gallons) of industrial fuel oil when it sank more than a week ago off the central island of Mindoro, south of the capital Manila.
Diesel fuel and thick oil from the vessel have contaminated the waters and beaches of nine municipalities along the coast of Oriental Mindoro province, Governor Humerlito Dolor told reporters.
Oil has been spotted as far south as Semirara island — which is part of Antique province — more than 130 kilometres (80 miles) from where the tanker went down.
That has sparked concerns for the region’s rich marine life and economy.
Provincial health officer Cielo Ante said at least 43 people living in affected villages had reported suffering vomiting, headaches and nausea since the oil reached their shores.
“They live in areas where the oil spill occurred,” said Ante.
No one was hospitalised and authorities had not confirmed if the symptoms were the direct result of the spill, she added.
Dolor said clean-up efforts were underway to prevent a spike in sickness.
“We cannot afford to add more numbers. Every day that passes is calamitous,” he told a briefing.
Residents and coast guard personnel wearing protective clothing and rubber gloves have been removing oil-coated seaweed and other debris from affected beaches.
An oil spill boom was deployed on Wednesday after rough seas hampered earlier efforts to contain the slick, Philippine Coast Guard spokesman Armando Balilo said.
The environment department said Monday that the submerged tanker may have been located.
It was believed to be about 400 metres (1,300 feet) below the surface, but a remotely operated vehicle would be needed to confirm its exact position.
It is not known how much diesel and industrial fuel oil have leaked into the water.
Thousands of fishermen have been ordered to stay on shore until they can fish safely, and swimming has been banned.
An estimated 591 hectares (1,460 acres) of coral reefs, 1,626 hectares of mangroves and 362 hectares of seaweed could be “potentially affected” by the oil spill, Environment Secretary Maria Antonia Loyzaga said previously.