The International Oil Pollution Compensation (IOPC) Funds and the insurer of the Princess Empress, the Shipowners’ P&I Club, have opened a Claims Submission Office. With the oil spill response still ongoing, it is likely claims will exceed the limit of liability of the insurer, which will require the fund to step in.

The tanker 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 at the end of February. It then encountered engine trouble due to overheating. The crew was evacuated and the tanker sank on 28 February.

The ship is believed to be at a depth of 400 metres Northeast of Pola, Oriental Mindoro, although the wreck could have moved in the tide/weather. The vessel is leaking oil from all eight tanks and a massive oil spill response operation is underway.

Also read: Tanker Princess Empress leaking oil from eight tanks

Fund likely needed to pay compensation

The Philippines is a party to both the 1992 Civil Liability Convention and the 1992 Fund Convention. The IOPC Funds has therefore been following developments and working closely with the Club and the Government of the Philippines since the incident occurred on 28 February 2023.

Clean-up and response operations are ongoing. Given the latest information reported, claims relating to this incident may exceed the limit of liability of the insurer under the 1992 CLC. It is possible that the 1992 Fund will therefore be called upon to pay compensation.

Also read: Philippines launches oil spill response after tanker sinks

Claims office

Members of the IOPC Funds Claims Team travelled to Singapore to meet with the Shipowners’ Club during the week of 20 March. They held discussions with the Club and local P&I correspondents from the Philippines and also remotely met with the Philippine Coast Guard.

It was agreed that the joint Claims Submission Office would be located in Calapan, Oriental Mindoro. This central office opened on 31 March and other smaller claims submission offices will open in affected regions over the next few weeks to allow claimants to submit their claims more easily.

Further details about the claims submission offices will be made available via an ‘Information for claimants’ page of the IOPC Funds website, which will also include claims forms and general information about the incident and the claims process.

The IOPC Funds will continue to liaise with key stakeholders, to monitor developments closely and will respond accordingly. It will provide a detailed report to the upcoming session of the 1992 Fund Executive Committee in May.

Also read: PCG collects 6600 litres of oil at Princess Empress wreck site

Oil spill response ongoing

RDC Reield Marine Services, owners of the sunken tanker Princess Empress, report that satellite imagery and joint aerial surveillance trajectory modelling show that the trajectory of the slick on the water varies from a south-westerly to westerly trajectory. Trajectory models indicate this variation will continue as weather patterns shift. Recently, there have been no further indications that any oil is heading south to the Western Visayas region.

​The at-sea response operations continue to collect oil emerging to the surface from the sunken vessel. French water pollution experts of Cedre have attended on board the shipowner-contracted oil spill response tugs to provide technical advice to improve and refine the at-sea containment and recovery efforts. Work continues on a daily basis by the Philippine Coast Guard and contracted response vessels.

​Joint shoreline surveys between the various authorities, international experts and clean-up contractors now focus across Oriental Mindoro in areas identified as at risk of contamination. Surveys are supported by US government observers from the United States Coast Guard (USCG) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), who are monitoring the clean-up efforts.

​In Oriental Mindoro, shoreside cleanup with high-volume flushing and high-pressure washing of affected areas is ongoing, with temporary waste storage sites being established to allow the safe and secure collation of waste before it is shipped for disposal. In Semirara, work crews are cleaning stretches of affected shorelines as part of the ongoing cleanup efforts.

The Princess Empress
The Princess Empress (from the MT Princess Empress Incident Information Centre).

Picture (top) by the Philippine Coast Guard.

Also read: Oil spill Philippines not abating, while wreck likely located