The tanker Princess Empress, carrying some 800,000 litres of fuel oil, sank off the Philippines on 28 February after engine trouble. The crew of the tanker were rescued, but an oil spill has ensued with a task force now trying to contain it.

According to the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), the Princess Empress departed from Bataan en route to Iloilo with twenty crew members (including the master) and approximately 800,000 liters of industrial fuel oil on board. It then encountered engine trouble due to overheating.

As a result, the vessel drifted towards the vicinity waters off Balingawan Point, Naujan, Oriental Mindoro, due to rough sea conditions until it became half-submerged. The PCG later revealed the vessel is now fully submerged. It is positioned on the eastern side of Mindoro Island at an estimated distance of 8 to 12 nautical miles.

A foreign vessel that was in the area, MV Efes, has rescued the vessel’s crew before the vessel sank with no injuries reported. They were transported to Subic, Zambales.

Location of sinking of the MT Princess Empress
Location of sinking of the MT Princess Empress.

Oil spill response

On 1 March, the PCG reported an oil spill had occurred, with oil covering an area of 6 kilometres long and 4 kilometres wide. Later, the organisation confirmed the presence of a much thicker and darker oil spill at about 7.4 nautical miles southwest off Balingawan Point, Naujan.

An oil spill response has been initiated with one of the coast guard tugs equipped with oil spill recovery equipment, the MTug Titan, starting to spray oil dispersants in the area. In addition, The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) created a task force to deal with the spill.

The PCG is leading the taskforce and has also mobilised certified oil spill response organisations to support their operations. PCG is installing spill booms to protect the locally-managed marine protected areas. In addition, mechanical recovery of spilled oil in waters off Naujan town is underway.

The shipping company that owns MT Princess Empress, RDC Reield Marine Services Inc., has begun retrieval operations and arranged for the help of Malayan Towage and Salvage Corporation (MTSC) in addressing the oil spill in the area.

On 2 March, oil has also been found along the shoreline of Barangay Buhay na Tubig in Pola, Oriental Mindoro. Teams haven been sent to this location to initiate clean-up.

Cargo could cause wider oil spill

So far, water samples have only confirmed the presence of the diesel oil used by Princess Empress, according to the PCG, but it is also carrying industrial oil that is much thicker than diesel and more harmful to the local marine wildlife.

CG spokesperson Rear Adm. Armando Balilo: ‘We need to remove this because it can spill at any time and could become an environmental catastrophe.’ If the incident worsens, he says the country may also reach out to past partners in oil spill exercises like Indonesia and Japan.

Further aerial surveillance will take place in the coming days to assess the situation. 21 locally-managed marine protected areas (LMMPAs) can potentially be affected due to oil spillage.


Possible negligence on the part of the shipping company is being looked at and may result in charges being filed following an investigation.

Picture (top): Oil spill being monitored from the sky (photo: Philippine Coast Guard).