PHILIPPINE COAST GUARD

By Brontë H. Lacsamana, Reporter

TOURIST SPOTS in Oriental Mindoro and nearby provinces have remained at a standstill for over a week after the sunken motor tanker (MT) Princess Empress caused an oil spill, endangering waters in the area.

Every day since, local government and community members have done coastal cleanup efforts on affected beaches, said Bong Marapia, head of the Coco Beach Resort in Kabilang Ibayo, Pola, Oriental Mindoro.

“We have no choice but to rest for now since no one is allowed to swim in the sea. We’re all closed,” he told BusinessWorld in Filipino over the phone.

The municipality of Pola sustained the most damage from the oil spill, reaching both beaches and mangroves on the coastline.

On the orders of Tourism Secretary Christina G. Frasco, the Department of Tourism (DoT) offices in Mimaropa, composed of Mindoro Oriental and Occidental, Marinduque, Romblon, and Palawan, have been closely monitoring the situation and coordinating with the Philippine Coast Guard and concerned local government units (LGUs).

“Though there seems to be less oil than before, locals and tourists alike are still strictly advised to avoid the sea, so we have no visitors and no income for now,” added Mr. Marapia.

The effects of the oil spill have reached the province of Antique as well, particularly the municipality of Caluya, where cleanups have also been conducted and improvised oil spill booms placed on the coast.

Though the town of Malay in Aklan, home to popular tourist destination Boracay, has not ben affected, oil spill booms have been placed there too, with the LGUs closely monitoring the situation.

“The 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,” said DoT secretary Ms. Frasco in a statement.

With 36,000 hectares of coral reefs, mangroves, and seagrass being endangered by the tragedy, dive destinations could likely be tarnished in the coming weeks, according to marine experts.

Ms. Frasco named the Verde Island passage and Apo Reef in Mindoro, and Coron’s World War II Wrecks and dugong sightings to be at risk.

The MT Princess Empress sank off the coast of Naujan, Oriental Mindoro on Februray 28, carrying 800,000 liters of industrial oil.