Why the Oriental Mindoro Oil Spill Is Not Just Mindoro's Problem

oil spill mindoro
PHOTO BY L: Facebook/DENR, R: Facebook/Ejay Falcon

(SPOT.ph) Oil does not mix with water. Whether during cooking (i.e. putting thawed fish in piping hot oil), quoting the proverb, or just doing a science experiment, most of us are well aware of this fact. So when you have an oil tanker sinking to the depths of the ocean, you know that's a problem. This is what happened when MT Princess Empress, which was carrying 800,000 liters of industrial oil, capsized in the waters off Naujan, Oriental Mindoro on February 28. The vessel sank the following day; and as of writing, the oil sludge has reached the coastal areas of Oriental Mindoro and Antique.

Also read: Mindoro Oil Spill Reaches World's Center of Marine Biodiversity

Immediate Effects of the Oil Spill in Oriental Mindoro and Antique

Up to 76 coastal barangays across nine municipalities in Oriental Mindoro have already been declared to be under a state of calamity. The island municipality of Caluya in Antique, likewise, is now under a state of calamity after the oil spill reached the shorelines of its three barangays.


"The oil spill will have immediate impacts on the livelihood of fisherfolks because it is unsafe for them to go fishing due to exposure to the oil and it is also not advisable for them to sell or eat the fish caught in areas already affected by the oil spill. The immediate impact of the oil slick is the death of marine organisms thriving in the surface waters of the affected areas, which will influence the supply of food (because of disruption in the food chain) as well as juveniles or eggs of marine organisms," Dr. Irene B. Rodriguez, associate professor at the University of the Philippines - Marine Science Institute, said in an exchange with SPOT.ph.

Fishing activities suspended in Oriental Mindoro

Oriental Mindoro Governor Humerlito Dolor suspended fishing in the affected areas of the oil spill, which—according to him—was observed in eight towns. Up to 18,000 fishermen were ordered to dock their boats and nets for the time being, according to a report by Philstar.com. About 11,000 fisherfolk families in the municipalities of Naujan and Pola according to a report by the local government unit.

watch now

"Our people can't go to the sea to fish, that's the biggest problem because, since Wednesday [March 1], I have ordered that these people are not allowed to fish because it is dangerous. First of all, water toxification can pose a risk to both... humans and the fish they catch," he said in a March 3 interview on Super Radyo dzBB. The LGU also advised residents to "not eat or consume seafood."

To mitigate the situation, the Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources committed the initial allotment of P4,000,000 as immediate assistance for fisherfolks affected by the fishing ban.

Fishing activities have also been suspended within the vicinity of Sitio Sabang and Sitio Tambak, Semirara Island, Nagubat Island, and Liwagao Island in Caluya, Antique. This was enforced by Caluya mayor Rigil Kent G. Lim in an executive order on March 4.

"The contamination of marine resources following the oil spill can lead to environmental and health concerns. All fishing activities and harvesting of marine resources as food or products in the vicinity are suspended," he said in a report by Panay News.


Antique Governor Rhodora Cadiao in a video interview with ABS-CBN said that the seaweed industry of Caluya is already seeing P6 million worth of damage. The oil sludge, according to the governor, has affected 46 hectares of seaweed farms in the municipality. Up to 7,000 families or 22,000 individuals are also bearing the brunt of the oil spill incident.

Caluya's seaweed industry is valued at P79 million and provides livelihood to 99 percent of the more or less 11,000 fisherfolk in the area.

Oil spill reaches Mindoro tourist spots, Palawan

The Department of Tourism on March 6 said that the effects of the oil spill have already been observed in marine protected areas in Pola, Oriental Mindoro, including the King Fisher Reserve, St. John the Baptist Marine Sanctuary, Song of the Sea Fish Sanctuary, Stella Mariz Fish Sanctuary, Bacawan Fish Sanctuary, St. Peter the Rock Fish Sanctuary, and the San Isidro Labrador Fish Sanctuary.


Bihiya Beach, 3 Cottage, Long Beach, Aguada Beach Resort, Oloroso Beach Resort, Munting Buhangin Tagumpay Beach Resort, and Buhay na Tubig White Beach Resort in Oriental Mindoro have also been affected.

The oil spill has reached Taytay, Palawan, some 295 kilometers away from Naujan, Oriental Mindoro, according to the Philippine Coast Guard on March 10. 

"Anent this, the Department of Tourism (DOT) notes with seriousness the oil spill incident and its grave impact on the tourism industry, including disruptions in the livelihood of the affected communities, tourism-dependent businesses, and recreational activities," Tourism Secretary Christina G. Frasco said in a statement.

The tourism office added, "If unmitigated, the oil spill can have adverse impacts on three of the world-class dive destinations in the Philippines, specifically the Verde Island passage and Apo Reef in Mindoro, and Coron’s World War II Wrecks and Philippine Dugong."

The local government of Malay, Aklan is already preparing for the possibility of the effects of the oil spill reaching Boracay. "The possibility that the Oriental Mindoro oil spill would affect Boracay Island and other areas of Northern Panay was very remote—thus, all concerned are advised to implement preparedness measures to mitigate the possible effect of this oil leakage," Memorandum Order No. 2022-01, which has declared a state of "heightened alert."


Mindoro residents report health issues after the oil spill

Department of Health Officer-in-Charge Maria Rosario Vergeire said in a press conference on March 7 that a resident of Pola, Oriental Mindoro was admitted to a hospital after experiencing aggravated asthma. The patient was discharged the following day. Several residents have also reported short-term symptoms like headache and dizziness. The health official said that health effects depend on one's mode of exposure to the oil sludge.

"Halimbawa, sila ay na-expose sa hangin, maaaring ma-aggravate ang kanilang existing respiratory conditions katulad ng mga may hika, katulad ng mga may emphysema. Kung kayo naman ay nakainom ng tubig na kontaminado, maaari kayong makaranas ng mga sintomas katulad ng pagsusuka, pagsakit ng tyan, at maaari ring pagtatae," she said.

The Oriental Mindoro government advised residents against using and drinking water from underground pumps since Sunday, March 5.


In a public health advisory, the Department of Health reminded responders, volunteers, and clean-up workers to wear protective gear, wash off the oil from hazmat and goggles, and dispose of used gloves properly.

Residents in affected places are advised to immediately wash with soap and water should they come in contact with the oil slick, make sure that domestic animals and pets don't go near the waters, properly dispose of affected trash and debris, and wash clothes with heavy detergent and solvents should they come in contact with oil.

Mindoro Oil Spill and the Possibility of Reaching Palawan

On March 3, aerial surveys by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the University of the Philippines Marine Science Insitute (UP-MSI) estimated the oil slick—that layer of oil floating on the surface of the water—to be around 25 kilometers long and between 300 to 500 meters wide. Its tail end is located in Pola Bay, Mindoro Oriental. This was also confirmed by satellite images released by the Philippine Space Agency.

Mindoro Oil Spill Palawan
Municipalities possibly affected by the oil slick and their municipal waters, according to UP-MSI

Since it doesn't mix with water, the oil slick will continue floating on the surface and flow to nearby bays, seas, and islands depending on the waves and the wind. To find out how far the oil slick will go, the University of the Philippines Marine Science Insitute (UP-MSI) oceanographer Dr. Cesar L. Villanoy and his team developed a trajectory model that forecasts the movement of the oil slick. Based on data, over 36,000 hectares of coral reefs, mangroves, and seagrass will possibly be affected by the oil slick.

mindoro oil spill
Model forecasts that the spill will reach Cuyo Islands and get closer to northern Palawan in about a week's time. 

With a disclaimer that "model results are model forecasts and accuracy is difficult to determine," UP-MSI projects that the "spill will continue due southwest to Cuyo group of islands" and "will get closer to northern Palawan mainland in about a week's time (March 12)."


Long-Term Effects on the Environment of the Mindoro Oil Spill

While there are already visible effects on the food supply, health, and immediate surroundings of the people in Oriental Mindoro and Antique, marine scientists are worried about the long-term effects of the oil spill on the environment.

"The long-term impacts will come from prolonged exposure to the oil spill, which we have to prevent from happening, that may lead to [the] death of marine organisms including keystone species such as corals, seagrasses, and mangroves that are present in wide areas in the coasts that are projected to be affected by the spill," Dr. Rodriguez tells SPOT.ph.

Keystone species are organisms that define an entire ecosystem. Without them, the whole ecosystem will drastically change or even disappear altogether. Given that the Philippines is an archipelago, it depends highly on its marine environment—we are all connected by water, after all.

"The worst-case scenario is the unsuccessful control of the spread of the oil slick and that it reaches the coasts inhabited by our communities. While natural conditions including wave action, temperature, and rainfall, evaporation of the oil, and the action of microorganisms will eventually degrade the oil, the exposure of humans and marine organisms to the oil will have adverse impacts. It is thus better for members of the community to temporarily leave the areas or minimize their stay in the affected coastal environments," the marine scientist adds.


Cleaning Up the Mindoro Oil Spill

The Philippine Coast Guard reported that Pola residents and personnel collected 92 sacks of oiled debris along the shore of Barangay Buhay na Tubig in Pola as of March 7. In Sitio Sigayan in Antique, up to 15 sacks of oily waste were collected on Tuesday.

"Just today, March 8, the authorities have successfully deployed booms and skimmers to contain the oil slick from spreading. The efforts to deploy booms and skimmers have been hindered during the past days by the rough sea conditions owing to the winds," explains Dr. Rodriguez about the clean-up. The owner of the MT Princess Empress also tapped two companies to help out with the cleaning operations, she added.

Philippine Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Artemio Abu was quoted by the media on Tuesday, March 7, that he did not want to give a timeline regarding the operation.

"We do not speculate, ayaw kong mag-predict. 'Yung one month na tinatanong, no one can tell. The earliest that we can contain and complete the operation, the better," Abu said.


This is not the first time that a major oil spill happened in Philippine waters. The most recent one before the Mindoro oil spill was in Iloilo City on July 30, 2020. A power barge spilled 48,000 liters of oil and affected an area of 1,200 square meters.

"Prevention of this type of incident from happening will be the best way moving forward and this can happen by ensuring that protocols and guidelines in operating vessels are followed by the shipping companies and imposed by them and their employees. There are guidelines in place already for [the] proper conduct of business and these should be monitored by relevant agencies to guarantee that businesses/companies are conducting routine maintenance and checks of their vessels, performing continual training of their staff, and ensuring that their vessels are sea-worthy. [On] the part of the national government and LGUs, it will be better if there will be continual capability building in terms of vessels that can be deployed on short notice. The same vessels may be utilized to respond to other natural calamities considering that the country is archipelagic. The key here is accountability, preparedness, and capacity building as are also required in dealing with other cases of force majeure," Dr. Rodriguez tells us.


UPDATE (March 12, 7:15 p.m.): On March 10, Friday, the Philippine Coast Guard reported oil slick sightings and onshore deposition on the coast of Barangay Casian, Taytay, Palawan.

On March 12, Sunday, UP-MSI's oil spill trajectory model forecasts that the spill will reach the Verde Island Passage due to weakening Amihan. This may cause the oil to flow northwards, affecting the coastal areas of Calapan, Verde Island, and parts of Batangas. This puts the global center of marine biodiversity located in the Verde Island Passage at risk.

Share this story with your friends!

Help us make Spot.ph better!
Take the short survey

Read more stories about

More Videos You Can Watch

Latest Stories

Load More Stories