Oil spill from Oriental Mindoro reaches Verde Island in Batangas City

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 20) — The oil spill from the tanker MT Princess Empress that sank in Naujan, Oriental Mindoro on Feb. 28 has reached Batangas City, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) Batangas station confirmed Monday.

PCG Batangas station commander Capt. Victorino Acosta said the oil slick was sighted in Verde Island Monday morning.

Authorities conducted an aerial inspection over the area later in the day. The PCG reported that vicinity waters no longer showed traces of the spill, but three nearby coastal barangays remain affected.

Verde Island is one of the country’s marine reserves and has been described as being at the heart of the global center of marine biodiversity.

It is located in the Verde Island Passage, which provides food and livelihood, among others to over two million locals, according to the Conservation International Philippines.

“The strait is the backbone of the local economy, thriving upon coastal tourism, fisheries, and as a shipping route to the international ports of Batangas, Manila and Subic Bay,” it noted in its website.

Marine scientist Al Licuanan, director of De La Salle University’s Shields Ocean Research Center, also highlighted the area’s rich biodiversity, and how the waters serve as a “refuge” from climate change.

“‘Yung Verde Island, kadalasan mas malamig ‘yung tubig sa bahaging ‘yan kaysa sa ibang parts ng Pilipinas. Which means na isang refuge area siya from ocean warming,” he told CNN Philippines.

[Translation: Most of the time, the waters in Verde Island are cooler than in other parts of the Philippines. Which means it is a refuge area from ocean warming.]

Meanwhile, Acosta said they are currently under heightened alert, as the PCG monitors other areas for possible sightings of the oil spill.

So far, swimming and diving are already prohibited in Verde Island, while there is still no announcement about a fishing ban, he noted.

Latest government data showed that over 32,000 families, or more than 149,000 individuals have been affected by the oil slick. Meanwhile, 189 residents got sick due to the spill.