MANILA — Despite criticisms from some sectors for failing to take a major part in the recent Oriental Mindoro oil spill operations, Climate Change Commissioner Albert Dela Cruz Sr. lauded the efforts of the Philippine Coast Guard for taking the lead in the cleanup operations and mitigating the damage caused by the disaster.
Before proceeding to the 2023 Smart City and Expo in Taipei, Taiwan, Commissioner Dela Cruz met with PCG officials led by Admiral Artemio Manalo Abu to make an assessment of the situation and he quickly cited that the damaging impact of the calamity could be better addressed by filtration or the use skimmers and not through the use of chemical-based dispersants.
The massive oil spill off the eastern coast of Mindoro Island from the sunken tanker MT Princess Empress has resulted in an oil slick stretching more than 120 kilometers (75 miles) and threatening hundreds of local fishing communities and the biodiversity in more than 20 marine protected areas, including that of Verde Island near Batangas City.
Meanwhile, a news report by state media PNA said a Japanese remotely operated vehicle (ROV) already located the oil tanker that sank off the waters of Oriental Mindoro last Feb. 28.
In a situation update, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) said ROV Hakuyo, onboard Japanese Dynamic Positioning Vessel (DPV) Shin Nichi Maru found the sunken tanker at 7.7 nautical miles from Balingawan Point in Naujan town, Oriental Mindoro province on Monday, 20 March 2023.
The services of DPV Shin Nichi Maru and ROV Hakuyo were hired by RDC Reield Marine Services (RDC) — the owner of MT Princess Empress — to locate and assess the condition of the sunken tanker.
In a press briefing, Oriental Mindoro Governor Humerlito Dolor also showed the initial photos and videos taken by the ROV of the sunken tanker ship that was carrying 800,000 liters of industrial oil and has caused a spill in the regions of MIMAROPA and Western Visayas.
The authorities are currently using chemical-based dispersants to clear the oil spill and end the crisis but some experts claim that this could later damage the marine ecosystem in the affected areas as these chemicals, though able to help remove the oil from the sea surface could cause concerns that could aggravate the problem by polluting the sea bed and destroying the marine habitats found there.
According to Comm. Dela Cruz, whereas dispersants could clear the coastal waters of Mindoro and Batangas from the massive oil slick, the resulting chemical reaction in the process of using dispersants could relatively become a big concern in terms of pollutants sinking into the marine floor.
The climate official particularly warned that chemical dispersants when sprayed on a surface oil slick causes the oil to break down into smaller droplets that more readily mix with water.
However, these droplets do not actually reduce the amount of oil entering the environment but push the effects of the spill underwater, causing harmful effects on the marine environment and ecosystem.
Moreover, Dela Cruz, who is also a biologist and practicing environment protection specialist, pointed out that although the dispersants will remove the oil, this would be only on the surface of the water and it will likewise pollute the sea bed and at most times go to the shore and pollute the shoreline.
Dispersants and dispersed oil have been shown to have significant negative impacts on marine life ranging from fish to corals to birds.
Dispersants accordingly release toxic break-down products from oil that, alone or in combination with oil droplets and dispersant chemicals, can make dispersed oil more harmful to marine life than untreated oil.
Both the short-term and long-term impacts of dispersants on marine life have not been adequately tested.
As acknowledged by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the “long-term effects (of dispersants) on aquatic life are unknown.”
“Aside from harming marine flora and fauna, dispersants pose significant human health risks as well because they contain the toxin 2-Butoxyethanol which may cause injury to red blood cells (hemolysis), kidney or the liver with repeated or excessive exposure,” Dela Cruz pointed out.
Instead of using dispersants, the commissioner argued that it would be better for the authorities to use skimmers or else conduct filtration to remove the oil from the water.
This way, he explained, the marine disaster could be properly addressed and our marine biodiversity, especially in the Verde Island Passage area, which is the breeding ground of the country’s marine resources, would be well protected.