Owner of Oriental Mindoro oil tanker, lawmakers meet in House hearing

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 29) — Lawmakers grilled the owner of MT Princess Empress, the sunken tanker that caused a massive oil spill in Oriental Mindoro, in a joint House hearing by the committees on ecology and natural resources on Monday.

RDC Reield Marine Services Inc. President Reymundo Cabial drew the ire of lawmakers when he failed to answer questions on how much insurance they could collect. When Cabial said they have a coverage of $1 billion for protection and indemnity for oil pollution, he was asked if they could collect the maximum amount.

Santa Rosa City Rep. Dan Fernandez cited the 1992 Civil Liability Convention (CLC) and the 1992 International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund. Under the 1992 CLC, shipowners are liable for oil pollution damages up to a limited amount.

In response to committee chairperson Rep. Elpidio Barzaga’s question, Cabial said they secured an insurance for oil pollution and paid a premium of up to $22,000. The congressman directed the company to present proof or they would be cited for contempt.

The firm also denied ACT Teachers Party-list Representative France Castro's claim that they were paying affected residents and fisherfolk ₱15,000 to prevent them from filing a case against the company. Castro said she received reports that claimants are being asked to sign a 14-page waiver in exchange for the cash assistance.

The company said they were not aware of the signing of a waiver. The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), who is in charge of assisting claimants, also denied any knowledge of it.

Lawmakers, local officials, and environment groups renewed their calls for accountability and a swift investigation on the incident.

The PCG earlier said oil extraction is expected to be finished in 20 to 30 days or late June if weather conditions permit. PCG Commandant Artemio Abu said a dynamic support vessel (DSV) chartered to help siphon the remaining oil will begin operations on May 29.

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said in March that he wants the cleanup to be completed in less than four months.