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Photos: Salvor Confirms Location of Leaking Philippine Shipwreck

PCG
Thin threads of fuel oil seep from the topsides of MT Princess Empress (Fukada Salvage / PCG)

Published Mar 21, 2023 3:26 PM by The Maritime Executive

A Japanese salvor has completed an ROV survey of the sunken Philippine tanker Princess Empress, returning images of fuel oil cargo leaking from the vessel's topsides. The survey confirms the wreck's location and serves as a first step towards a potential remediation effort. 

The small product tanker Princess Empress went down off Pola, Oriental Mindoro on February 28 with a cargo of 900,000 liters of fuel oil. The petroleum continues to leak out of its tanks, threatening a growing swath of the central Philippines with pollution. The slick has spread as far south as the Caluya Islands and as far northwest as the ecologically sensitive Verde Island Passage, a critical fishery breeding ground located between Mindoro and Luzon. Tens of thousands of fishermen, hospitality industry workers and residents have been affected by shoreline pollution and related business impacts. 

The salvage vessel Shin Nichi Maru arrived in Mindoro on Monday, and after formalities in port, she headed directly to the suspected wreck site. A Philippine survey ship previously scanned the area to determine the most likely location of the tanker. Shin Nichi Maru deployed her ROV, the Hakuyo, and quickly confirmed that the sonar target was the Princess Empress.

Images courtesy Fukada Salvage / PCG

Now that the vessel's location has been confirmed, the government of Oriental Mindoro plans to meet with the PCG, the shipowner, the insurer and the charterer in order to plan the next steps of the response. 

The Philippines' civil defense agency also called for procuring an ROV for domestic use, citing the long timeframe in between the casualty and the visual inspection. "The government itself still needs to procure an ROV in order to create its own capacity. As soon as possible, we need to buy our own ROV," Office of Civil Defense Administrator Ariel Nepomuceno said in a statement. 

Skimming operations to recover oil from the Princess Empress, March 16 (PCG)

Shoreline pollution on ecologically-sensitive Verde Island, March 21 (PCG)

Documentation inquiry deepens

It is unclear whether the newbuild Princess Empress had the correct documentation at the time of the casualty voyage. Philippine maritime regulatory agency Marina insists that it never issued an amended Certificate of Public Convenience (CPC) - a permit to operate in domestic trade - to reflect the addition of Princess Empress to the shipowner's fleet. However, the PCG is in possession of what appears to be a signed copy of an amended permit, which was allegedly provided to the coast guard by the vessel's second mate. 

On Tuesday, Marina regional director Marc Pascua insisted that he had never signed the document and that it contained material discrepancies that suggest that it may have been forged. At a press conference, he told GMA that the document misspelled his name ("Mark" instead of "Marc"), incorrectly listed his job title, and showed that it had been "certified" by a Marina staffmember who had already retired two years before. The Philippine Department of Transport is currently investigating whether the document was legitimate.

Courtesy PCG