Oil from a sunken tanker flooded the central coast of the Philippines

Clean-up work was underway on the blackened coast of the central Philippine island on Thursday after an oil spill from a sunken oil tanker, according to the country’s environment minister, as fears of economic and environmental damage intensified.

The oil spill off the town of Nauzhan on Mindoro Island reached the coasts of the next four municipalities on the island’s east coast around noon Thursday and appears to be flowing further south, Environment Minister Maria Antonia Loizaga said in a statement.

800,000 liters of fuel oil

When the Princess Empress sailed into rough seas off Nauzhan on Tuesday, it sank with a cargo of 800,000 liters (210,000 gallons) of industrial fuel oil.

The Philippine Coast Guard said another ship rescued 20 crew members on board, but the Princess Empress dumped some of its cargo into the sea after an initial spill of the diesel fuel that powered the ship.

Conservation officials are “currently focused on cleaning up the coast,” Loisag said, given the extent of the affected coastline.

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In the meantime, divers will assess the impact on reefs, mangroves and seagrasses as “possible contamination could actually affect the viability of these systems.”

She added: “We anticipate that this effort will require staff to work for a period of time.”

The Coast Guard said earlier that the spill had spread to 24 square kilometers (nine square miles) of water by Wednesday.

It is not known how much diesel fuel and technical fuel oil is in the water.

Provincial Governor Jumerlito Dolor said searches were still ongoing for the stricken tanker, which is estimated to be in 460 meters (1,500 feet) of water.

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“The Coast Guard has assured us that they are ready to pump oil as soon as they determine (location),” Dolor told local media.

“Unfortunately, after two aerial observations (flights), we still cannot determine the exact location of the ship.”

Tourism has suffered

Meanwhile, the Coast Guard deployed booms to try to contain the material and sprayed chemicals to destroy the oil.

Fishermen and tourist operators on the coast are heavily dependent on water for their livelihood.

Oil was discovered in about 60 kilometers of water between Naujan and Bongabong municipality, said Ram Temena, head of the disaster relief operation in the stricken province of Mindoro Oriental.

“We have a lot of fish reserves on the coast,” Temena said.

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“This could have a huge impact because of the possibility that oil could stick to coral reefs, which would affect marine biodiversity.”

Bongabong municipality emergency officer Michael Fanoga said fishermen complained of a “bad smell” about two kilometers from shore.

“If it spreads along the coastline, our beaches will be destroyed, as will the remaining corals,” Fanoga said.

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