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The Mindoro Oil Spill Has a Massive Environmental and Socio-Economic Impact, Causing P41.2B in Damages

A sustainability think tank has released a research estimating the environmental and socio-economic damage caused by the sinking of the oil tanker MT Princess Empress in Oriental Mindoro last year, at a staggering P41.2 billion.

The MT Princess Empress, carrying 800,000 liters of industrial fuel oil, sank off the coast of Naujan town on February 28, 2023, resulting in a significant oil spill that spread to the provinces bordering the resource-rich Verde Island Passage (VIP).

The Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development (CEED) released a report on Monday, indicating that the environmental damage resulting from the oil spill reached approximately P40.1 billion. Additionally, socio-economic losses were recorded at P1.1 billion.

The total damage cost was revealed to be 800% higher than the initial government estimate, as highlighted by CEED. Gerry Arances, the executive director of CEED, emphasized the severity of such oil spills, stating, “Catastrophic oil spills like the one in the Verde Island Passage (VIP) are deadly, costly, and can forever change sensitive ecosystems.”

Arances added, “The oil spill has also plunged the people not only in Mindoro but also in other surrounding communities that heavily rely on the resources of VIP for their survival.”

Valuation: The study, conducted 39 weeks after the oil spill, employed two methods to assess its impact. It analyzed the losses incurred by coastal families in various Oriental Mindoro towns due to the incident and evaluated the monetary value people were willing to pay for fishing areas. This valuation was then extended to those residing away from the coast in the affected provinces.

The study revealed that fishers continued to face income losses from July to November, even after the fishing ban was lifted. Reports indicated that fishers’ yields had not returned to their usual pre-oil spill levels, with only about a third of their normal catch being obtained.

Arances urged the government to conduct a comprehensive study detailing the complete extent of the oil spill’s impact on the environment and livelihoods to address both immediate and long-term needs of affected residents.

Protection for VIP: Fr. Edwin Gariguez, lead convenor of Protect VIP, stressed the importance of legally protecting the marine corridor under the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System for its safety. The Verde Island Passage, acknowledged as the “center of the center” of the world’s marine biodiversity, faces threats from pollution, illegal fishing, commercial shipping, and climate change.

“One year is ample time for meaningful progress towards protecting the VIP and ensuring its preservation for future generations, a timeline which the government did not use properly,” said Gariguez. According to environmental officials, the EPA was pushing for the designation of VIP as a legally protected seascape last year.

About a year after the oil leak, oil and grease levels were still high in a number of Oriental Mindoro protected areas, according to a different CEED report.

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