Philippines suspends tanker operator’s licence

The Philippines’ Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) has revoked the licences of RDC Reield Marine Services, the operator of the sunken inter-island tanker Princess Empress.

A task force is working on a plan to stop the oil leaks after the vessel was located late last week. Further international assistance has arrived

The Princess Empress (MMSI 548372700) sank on February 28th after going Not Under Command/ It had a cargo of 800,000 litres of industrial fuel, plus its own fuel load of marine diesel.

The exact location of the vessel remained unknown for more than two weeks, and leaking oil was polluting fishing areas, tourist destinations and environmentally significant parts of the sea and Philippines coast.

A Japanese salvage vessel using an ROV located the vessel and has now provided a tentative survey of the extent of the damage and leaks. Its operators reported that there were as many as 23 leaking areas. They said all the leaks appear to be coming from the eight tanks with the heavy fuel oil, but they suspect the first leak might have come from the vessel’s fuel supply of marine diesel. That area no longer appears to be leaking.

Oriental Mindoro Governor Humerlito Dolor said that more than 20,000 families, 61 tourism establishments and 750 community-based organizations for tourism had been affected. He said that they would be able to begin filing claims during a “claims caravan” that is due to start on Monday March 27th.

MARINA continues to allege that the vessel did not have the proper permits or was operating with forged documents, assertions that have been denied by the operators. On March 23rd MARINA announced that it issued two cease and desist orders to RDC Reield Marine Services. One was for the cancellation of the company’s Certificate of Public Convenience, while the other was issued to halt three remaining vessels, two other tankers and one passenger vessel, from operating until the investigations are completed.

MARINA has denied one of the allegations, made by a Philippines minister speaking on a local TV station, that the vessel was not a newbuild but rebuilt from a scrapped vessel. MARINA administrator Hernani Fabia contradicted the minister’s claim, which appeared to be based on a single unverified source, broadcast on the same TV station. He told reporters that based on its records, they believed the vessel was a new construction and that they had advised the National Bureau of Investigation of this.

The survey by the Japanese ROV showed that the sunken ship had suffered extensive structural damage due to the pressure while sinking, and that the aft  was the most heavily damaged part. Oil leaks had been observed from eight compartments, and some through the ballast tank as well as from the ship’s access hatches, cargo tank pressure valves, and cargo pipework on the ship’s deck, including valves. The highest flow rate was reported to be from the No. 4 port pressure valve. Governor Dolor said that among the plans suggested for containing the leaks include bagging, patching the leaks, and hot tapping and pumping.

The US ambassador to the Philippines said that the US would be providing additional financial support as well as protective equipment, hygiene kits, and oil spill cleaning supplies. The US Coast Guard and NOAA are already in Oriental Mindoro to help with cleanup. They are also providing satellite imagery and modelling applications to help the Philippine Coast Guard and the University of the Philippines-Marine Sciences Institute estimate the trajectory of the spill.

Assistance will be arriving from South Korea this week, with a response team from the Korean Coast Guard, along with technical experts, are due to arrive on March 28. South Korea has also pledged to ship 20 tons of absorbent pads, 2,000 sets of protective equipment, and a 1,000-meter spill boom by the first week of April.

The Philippine Coast Guard has applied to the International Oil Pollution Compensation Funds, run under the auspices of the IMO, for assistance with the clean-up effort. It has looking to receive funds from the insurer of RDC Reield Marine Services