Senators say owners can’t collect insurance to pay for oil spill damages
The tanker MT Princess Empress that caused a massive oil spill when it sank in Oriental Mindoro with 800,000 liters of industrial fuel on Feb. 28 sailed nine times despite having no updated authority to operate, senators said Tuesday.
In a hearing on the oil spill, Senators Cynthia Villar and Risa Hontiveros cited a report submitted by the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) that said the MT Princess Empress, a new ship, was not included in the certificate of public convenience issued to its owner, RDC Reield Marine Services (RDC).
Villar said the lack of the amended CPC would mean the company would not be able to claim insurance on the ship that sank, which has been insured for $1 billion, and will be unable to compensate those who were affected by the oil spill.
“The government cannot rely that it can get money for damages from the company which owns the sunken ship,” she said.
“The MARINA and the Coast Guard will explain that they cannot claim from the insurance because they have no permit to operate. So we should not wait for that anymore. They will have a problem with that… Don’t depend on something that will not come, Villar added.
Hontiveros said without an amended CPC that included the tanker, the MT Princess Empress should not have been allowed to sail on Feb. 28 from SL Harbor Terminal in Limay, Bataan.
Senator Raffy Tulo said Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) officials who checked the ship should be jailed for dereliction of duty.
But the PCG, in a Facebook post, denied that the oil tanker had no permit to operate and shared a copy of the CPC of the MT Princess Empress that was issued by MARINA.
It was unclear which claim was correct, but Fritzee Tee, vice president of RDC Reield Marine Services, said the MT Princess Empress, which first sailed in December 2022 even without an amended CPC, was able to sail nine times before the sinking.
Tee told the Senate panel that the company was coordinating with its insurance firm on the claims.
But Villar insisted it cannot claim from its insurance company as it has no CTC authorizing the MT Princess Empress to sail.
The senator also noted that the ship owner is just a small company, thus incapable of paying compensation and damages and might even go bankrupt.
“So that the government should act to give assistance to those affected by the oil spill,” Villar said.
Oriental Mindoro Gov. Hurmelito Dolor was dismayed by Villar’s disclosure, saying the shipowner was given them false hope.
Dolor said they were informed last Monday by the shipping company’s lawyer that they will build a claim center within the week where people can get their individual claims for damages.
Dolor said the plan was for the people of Mindoro to file collectively as one for damages.
Hontiveros and Senators Bong Revilla and Francis Escudero, meanwhile, proposed the filing of criminal and civil charges against those involved in the “illegal” voyage of the MT Princess Empress.
Also upon the request of Senator Loren Legarda, Villar said she would write to President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to clariy who has the mandate to lead efforts to contain and clean up the oil spill and provide assistance to those badly affected by it.
Environment Secretary Maria Antonia Loyzaga said it will take 15 to 20 days to totally siphon the oil spilled into the waters of Oriental Mindoro. Fishing can resume five days after the clean up, she said.
Senator Francis Tolentino questioned the seaworthiness of the M/T Princess Empress.
Earlier, Tolentino urged the Senate environment panel to demand an in-depth assessment over the vast damage brought by oil spill incident.
He said the government should use existing funds provided by the Oil Pollution Compensation Act since there is a specific provision that calls for the allotment of 10 centavos per liter for every tanker as a compensation fund.
Tolentino said MARINA should lay down the guidelines for the use of the compensation fund.
The senator stressed that it’s now a race against time and authorities should not wait for the compensation and assistance coming from the shipowner
The owners of the sunken tanker apologized to the public for the oil spill that affected the livelihoods of those living in the area and the adverse effects it would have on the environment.
“We are committed to doing everything possible to minimize the ongoing impact on the environment and people’s lives and clean up the spill,” the company said in its statement.
The RDC Reield Marine Services said it is already in contact with its insurance firm about possibly providing compensation for affected residents.
“We are working closely with our insurers, and those affected by the spill will be duly advised on how to submit their claims for processing,” it added.
Also on Tuesday, Protect Verde Island Passage (Protect VIP) called for the urgent exhaustion of available means to secure livelihood reparation and ensure immediate receipt of funds for the communities affected by the oil spill, specifically by holding polluting companies at fault accountable and penalizing them.
The Department of Health (DOH) said 122 people have gotten sick due to the effects of the oil spill.
DOH officer-in-charge Maria Rosario Vergeire said that of the 122 cases reported, most of them had headaches and respiratory-related symptoms like cough and colds.
Vergeire said most of these cases have already recovered.
Only one was admitted in a hospital due to an aggravated asthma, but was also discharged the next day, she said. With Charles Dantes