Coastal News

The University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute Gives Latest Update on MT Princess Empress Oil Spill

Bulletin #01 (March 3, 2023): DENR, PCG, and MSI Working Together to Address Mindoro Oil Spill

Marine experts from the UP Diliman College of Science Marine Science Institute (UPD-CS MSI), UP Visayas (UPV), and Mindanao State University - Iligan Institute of Technology (MSU-IIT) came together with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) to work on countermeasures to address the effects of the recent oil spill off Naujan, Occidental Mindoro.

The oil has reportedly reached the shores of the coastal towns of Naujan, Pola, and Pinamalayan. With the direction of the wind and the waves, the oil might reach the southern tip of Mindoro in a matter of days. At risk is over 24,000 hectares of coral reef area in Mindoro alone—from Bulalacao, Oriental Mindoro, all the way to San Jose, Occidental Mindoro. The spill is from the oil tanker MT Princess Empress, which sank last February 28.

Meanwhile, the team is already considering possible contingencies to address the spread of the oil, made difficult by the prevailing strong winds and waves. The team also said that the extent of the spill and the measures to be used depend largely on the kind of oil that was contained in the ship, which the PCG is currently working towards identifying.

A team with representatives from the different agencies, including MSI, has been deployed onsite to assess and assist the situation on the ground. Other efforts being done to help understand the spill include hydrodynamic modeling to determine where the oil might end up, given the wind and currents in the area.

Bulletin #02 (March 4, 2023): Oil Spill Trajectory Model and Satellite Imagery Shows Oil Slick Trajectory and Affected Areas

MSI’s scientists, with the concurrence of the DENR, are recommending warning coastal communities—especially those on the eastern and southern sides of Oriental Mindoro, including Caluya Island (Northwestern Antique), and potentially Cuyo Island of Palawan—to prepare for the possibility that the oil spill could reach their shores.

Aerial surveys by the DENR and UP MSI on the morning of March 3 (8-9 AM) estimated the slick to be around 25 km long and between 300 to 500 m wide. It is roughly oriented northeast to southwest, with its tail end situated in Pola Bay. This was also confirmed by the satellite images released by the Philippine Space Agency (PhilSA).

image2 40Map from Philippine Space Agency showing possible spillage extent on March 2, 2023, 05:39 AM. (Philippine Space Agency)

To help the communities and the agencies prepare, UP MSI oceanographer Dr. Cesar L. Villanoy and his team developed an oil spill trajectory model to forecast the track and the transport of the slick over the next four days (March 3-7, 2023) based on prevailing weather patterns and conditions, and on recent information on the location of the slicks.

Three trajectory model runs were generated:

Scenario 1 (Run 1) considers possible transport northwards towards the Verde Island Passage (VIP), making Calapan and Puerto Galera possible affected areas.

Scenario 2 (Run 2) considers the continuous release of oil from the alleged seepage location, showing that most of the slick will end up in Pola Bay.

Scenario 3 (Run 3) considers the continuous release of oil from the suspected seepage location but was also initialized with the latest information on the location of the observed slick. This model shows the oil slick being transported southwards, which has now been confirmed to have reached the coasts of Pinamalayan and Bongabong. It also shows that some of the slick may pass through Caluya Island (Northwestern Antique) and could eventually reach Cuyo Island in the Sulu Sea. The model, however, only shows potential trajectories in the next four days.

These models are now being used by the DENR to direct efforts on the ground. Images provided by PhilSA are in agreement with the model (Scenario 3) about the movement of the slick. Though agencies looked at the feasibility of deploying booms to contain surface oil within its boundaries, both the experts and the PCG aired concern that the strong waves caused by the prevailing Amihan winds might render the oil booms ineffective at containing the spill.

The public and local governments along the projected routes are now being warned about the possibility of oil slick deposition in many coastal areas south of Mindoro. Aside from the ecological damage to these habitats, damage from the oil slick will also have an economic impact on livelihood and food sources. The public is encouraged to report any sighting of oil slick to authorities and adhere to public guidance to prevent its harmful effects. New model runs will be made available in the coming days.

Bulletin #03 (March 4, 2023): Over 36,000 ha Of Coral Reefs, Mangroves, And Seagrass Possibly Affected By Oil Slick

We would like to update and correct the area of affected coral reefs that we published in MSI Bulletin #01. Using the modeled oil spill trajectories (Bulletin #02), and looking at higher resolution data, we approximate that 20,000 ha of coral reef, 9,900 ha of mangroves, and 6,000 ha of seagrass may be affected by the oil slick in the following municipalities (see table below). More than half of potentially affected reefs (11,000 ha) are found in the Cuyo group of islands.

image3 2(Image credit: Philippine Coast Guard)

The earlier estimate of 24,000 ha coral reef was arrived at using preliminary coarse resolution data, which resulted in an overestimation.

Among the coastal sites that may be at risk are several marine protected areas (MPAs), including but not limited to the reefs in Bulalacao, Oriental Mindoro, amounting to some 1,100 ha of coral reefs. Significant seagrass beds are present in several areas, including the coastal barangays of Pola, Mansalay, and Bulalacao in Oriental Mindoro. Caluya Island in Northwestern Antique, which has a high possibility of being affected based on the oil spill trajectory model, also has significant areas of coral reefs (2,900 ha), mangroves (350 ha), and seagrass meadows (850 ha).


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