No power to sanction SMC

The Maritime Industry Authority said it has no power to sanction San Miguel Corporation which is reportedly the charterer of the sunken oil tanker MT Princess Empress for the massive destruction to the marine ecosystem caused by the massive oil spill in Oriental Mindoro.

In an interview Wednesday, Marina spokesperson Sharon Aledo said SL Harbor Bulk Terminal Corp., a subsidiary of San Miguel Shipping and Lighterage, negotiated the charter of the MT Princess Empress with its operator, RDC Reield Marine Services, to transport 800,000 liters of industrial oil from Bataan to Iloilo. It sank in rough weather off Naujan, Oriental Mindoro on 28 February.

Aledo said they are not in a position to sanction SMC amid revelations during Tuesday’s hearing of the Senate Committee on Environment, Natural Resources, and Climate Change that MT Princess Empress had no permit to operate since its owner RDC has yet to amend its certificate of public convenience or CPC after it added the new ship to its fleet.

“Under Marina’s mandate pursuant to PD (Presidential Decree) 474 and Republic Act 9295, Marina is in no position to determine the liability of the charterer. Our mandate only relates to shipping certification and safe operations,” she said.

She, however, said in a Senate inquiry that “the (Marina) administrator only confirmed that the MT Princess Empress had not yet been added to the company’s CPC through a CPC amendment.”

Aledo said there is a process for screening the documents submitted, “and per the screening, they still lacked documents as confirmed by the administrator yesterday.”

“We received no information from the shipowner, or any documents with regard to who the charterer was so we cannot validate that,” she added.

It was learned during the Senate hearing that it is Marina that issues the CPC while it is the Philippine Coast Guard’s responsibility to clear the ship, based on a checklist, for the voyage.

A CPC is a license issued to domestic ship operators to engage in domestic shipping activities. The company needs to file an amendment to its CPC when it acquires a new ship.

Mandated to regulate the Philippine maritime industry, Marina is responsible to “lead a progressive maritime administration for safer people, safer ships, and cleaner environment.”

Also bared during the Senate hearing is that the PVG reportedly did not tick off seven boxes in the pre-departure checklist of MT Princess Empress when it sailed thus, should not have allowed it to leave SL Harbor Terminal in Limay, Bataan.

An RDC official said MT Princess Empress, a new vessel that first sailed in December 2022, and even without an amended CPC was able to sail nine times before the sinking.

Floating bomb
Meanwhile, a reliable source, who has been operating shipping vessels, said that a domestic vessel carrying hundreds of thousands of liters of oil is a catastrophe on the sea.

“A loaded oil barge treading domestic waters is a “floating time bomb.” If an accident happens, the oil spill will be exponentially harmful to our environment, unlike cargo vessels,” he told the Daily Tribune.

To mitigate this, the seasoned shipowner suggested to Marina that all tankers treading domestic waters, excluding bays and rivers, must be classed by international classification societies. He said that local classification is not acceptable.

“All tankers must carry protection and insurance that are recognized internationally. All documentation must be handled by the Marina head office,” he added.

Further, the source said the MT Princess Empress “was built in Bataan but registered in the Legaspi branch of Marina, which is questionable.”

“Why? All tankers must be approved beforehand by the oil majors (Shell, Chevron and Petron). This is practiced internationally. We can’t have another disaster. Time for the government/Marina to be strict. Rules must not be changed unless there is a wide consultation with the private sector. The government should not be moved by the lobby of politicians or by small tanker owners, which has happened in the past,” the source said.

Although the recent Senate hearing did not mention who the charterer of the 800,000 liters of fuel oil is, the environmental protection group Protect Verde Island said San Miguel Corporation must be held responsible and pay up.

“SMC must pay at least a P70,000,000 cash bond — P50 million for the cleanup and containment and P20 million for damages and payment to impacted communities,” Protect VIP lead convener Fr. Edwin Gariguez said.

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