THE PHILIPPINES is losing P5 million daily as fisherfolk remained barred from sailing in some areas affected by the oil spill from a sunken tanker south of the capital, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) said on Monday.

About 19,000 fishermen in nine Oriental Mindoro municipalities have been affected by the spill from MT Princess Empress, BFAR spokesman Nazario C. Briguera told a televised news briefing.

“We estimate that P5 million is lost every day as fishermen lose their livelihood due to the fishing ban,” he said in Filipino.

MT Princess Empress was carrying 800,000 liters of industrial fuel oil on Feb. 28 when it sank off the waters of Naujan, Oriental Mindoro.

Marine experts estimate that as many as 20,000 hectares of coral reefs, 9,900 hectares of mangroves and 6,000 hectares of seagrass could have been affected by the spill.

Senators and congressmen have called for separate investigations of the incident, which prompted the province to place nearly 80 coastal villages in nine towns under a state of calamity.

The spill prompted the government to ban fishing and swimming in some areas in the province, affecting the livelihood of residents who rely on fishing and tourism for their survival.

More than 151,000 people from about 33,000 families in 130 villages in Oriental Mindoro, Palawan and Antique provinces have been affected by the oil spill, according to the Social Welfare department.

The agency had allotted about P116 million for its “cash-for-work” program for fishermen, Miramel G. Laxa, a Social Welfare assistant director, told the briefing. The program will be extended until May.

Authorities have doubled their efforts to contain the spill, which experts said has long-term impacts on fish supply and other marine resources.

The Philippine Coast Guard on Monday said that the spill had reached the shores of Verde Island Passage, one of the world’s most diverse marine habitats.

Coast Guard Batangas station Commander Victorino R. Acosta IV told DZBB radio the oil spill was expected to reach coastal areas along Batangas Bay and Balayan Bay.

The Verde Island Passage, which provides food and livelihood to more than 2 million people, is surrounded by Oriental Mindoro, Occidental Mindoro, Batangas, Romblon and Marinduque.

It is considered as the center of global shore-fish biodiversity, serving as a home to “charismatic species” such as whale sharks, sea turtles, nudibranchs and various corals, according to Conservation International Philippines.

The University of the Philippines (UP) Marine Science Institute in a Mar. 18 bulletin said the oil spill was moving northward, with Calapan, Mindoro possibly receiving most of the oil from March 20-22.

“The Amihan winds, which contained most of the oil to the coasts of Naujan and Pola in the previous weeks, are now more variable, allowing the oil to spread northward,” it said. The oil spill’s direction is affected by the weakening northeast monsoon, locally called amihan.

Mr. Acosta said their team had prepared improvised spill booms and other equipment even before the UP report.

The Coast Guard was monitoring the shores in the towns of San Juan, Lobo, Batangas Bay, Tingloy and Calatagan for oil slick.

Meanwhile, the Maritime Industry Authority had approved a P33-million budget for the Coast Guard’s cleanup drive in Mindoro, spokeswoman Sharon L. De Chavez-Aledo told a separate news briefing.

“It will cover the equipment and materials they will be needing for the immediate containment and oil spill operations,” she said. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Sheldeen Joy Talavera and Justine Irish D. Tabile