The International Oil Pollution Compensation Funds and specialty insurer Shipowners’ P&I have agreed to open up a joint office in Oriental Mindoro to gather claims for compensation related to the Princess Empress fuel oil spill. The decision dispels Philippine lawmakers’ concerns that the insurer would attempt to cancel coverage and avoid paying out damages because of irregularities with the vessel operator’s licensing paperwork.
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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 crew were rescued safely by a good samaritan vessel, but petroleum began to leak out of the wreck’s cargo tanks, threatening a wide swath of the central Philippines with pollution. The spill has come ashore on beaches and reefs from Calapan and Verde Island in the northwest to the Caluya Islands in the south. Remnants of the slick have been detected as far away as Palawan, 200 nm to the southwest of the wreck site. An estimated 175,000 people have been affected, and thousands of fishermen are out of work because of an ongoing fishing ban.
Based on the extent of the spill, the damages may exceed the P&I club’s limit of liability, triggering additional coverage from the IOPC Funds, the insurers said in a statement Wednesday. After discussions with all parties, the insurers have agreed to start collecting claims for compensation from affected residents beginning this week. The central claims office is located in Calapan, and smaller offices will open around the region within a few weeks.
Spill response efforts are ongoing, and more assets are joining the operation. The insurers have hired French oil spill response company Le Floch Depollution (LFD), and the firm is activating its resources now. Japan, South Korea and the United States are all providing advice and material assistance; Japan has dispatched a salvage ship with an ROV, which has conducted inspections of the Princess Empress’ wreck site. An American-chartered ship, the Pacific Valkyrie, is under way with an additional ROV to join the work on site. The ultimate objective is to remediate the remaining oil aboard the tanker and limit further pollution.
According to the Philippine Coast Guard, the ROV inspections show that Princess Empress sustained extensive damage in the sinking. Four of the vessel’s eight tanks are believed to have released most or all of their contents, amounting to about 400,000 liters of fuel oil.