Oil spill clouds prospects of resorts, marine parks along Verde Island Passage

By Brontë H. Lacsamana, Reporter

RESORTS and marine parks along the Verde Island Passage, an area of rich biodiversity between Luzon and Mindoro, could see the long-term damage from the oil spill to their southeast, marine experts said.

The oil spill, caused by the loss of the tanker Princess Empress in February off Naujan, Oriental Mindoro, has reached Verde Island, which is to the northwest of the tanker’s underwater resting place.

The 1.4-million hectare strait between Batangas and Mindoro has been placed under continuous watch by the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), according to Mary dela Cruz, manager of the Surface Interval Resort in San Agapito, which in the southeast of Verde Island.

“So far we’re not affected by the oil spill but the PCG has been roaming the area every day,” she told BusinessWorld. “If the waves aren’t big, people can still swim.”

The three barangays being monitored in Verde Island are San Antonio, San Agustin, and San Agapito, after traces of the spill were found there early Monday, according to PCG spokesperson Armand Balilo. The cleanup effort removed 230 liters of oil-contaminated material on the beaches of the three barangays that day.

The oil spill response team put up booms in those waters, with the spill reported to be receding as of late Monday, according to aerial surveillance reports.

On Tuesday, the authorities located the tanker using a remotely operated vehicle from Japan. It captured underwater images at nearly 400 meters’ depth off Balingawan Point, Naujan.

The vessel was reported to be carrying 800,000 liters of industrial oil to Iloilo.

“We’ve had 10 major oil spills since early 2000s but still, as you can see, there’s not enough infrastructure. We should have a national oil spill response but even LGUs are left in the dark on how to deal with oil spills,” Oceana Philippines senior campaign manager Daniel Ocampo told One News PH on Tuesday.

He cited the need to shield the area’s marine protected areas from the effects of the spill.

He added that the four-month cleanup period estimated by the President may not be enough to stem the long-term effects of the spill on livelihoods, displaced communities, and marine life.

The University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute (MSI) warned in a forum on Sunday that the Verde Island Passage, Puerto Galera, and coastal towns in Batangas may be affected by the spill depending on the direction of the winds.

“The Amihan winds, which confined most of the oil to the coasts of Naujan and (the neighboring town of) Pola in previous weeks, are now more variable, allowing the oil to spread northwards,” according to an advisory issued by the MSI.

If the oil seeping from the hull of the vessel is not contained before Amihan season ends, the MSI said, more critical biodiversity areas along the passage may be affected.

The Amihan is a northeast wind that runs until May or June. It gives way to the Habagat or southwest monsoon.