Oil spill in Philippines reaches biodiversity-rich Verde Island

MANILA, March 20 (dpa): An oil spill in the Philippines has reached the shores of an island in one of the most diverse marine habitats in the world, officials said on Monday.

The Princess Empress sank off the coast of Oriental Mindoro province, about 160 kilometres south of Manila, after encountering rough seas on February 28, while transporting 800,000 litres of industrial oil.

The oil spill has already affected almost 1 million hectares of municipal waters, according to Karagatan ("sea") Patrol, a monitoring platform created by ocean conservation group Oceana Philippines.

The affected municipal waters cover 10 coastal towns in Oriental Mindoro province, two in the western province of Palawan and one in Antique province, Oceana added.

According to the coastguard, there were confirmed sightings of the oil spill in two villages in Verde Island, more than 50 kilometres north of Oriental Mindoro.

Verde Island is an ecologically critical area located at the centre of the Verde Island Passage, which is home to thousands of species, according to Conservation International.

The island has been dubbed as the "centre of the centre of marine biodiversity” in the world.

Officials were attempting to contain the oil spill about 4.4 nautical miles (8.1 kilometres) from the island, said the station commander of the local coastguard, Victorino Acosta.

"There are oil sheens, but some are making a landfall, which are black in colour."

The coastguard had send extra support and equipment to the island to minimize the impact of the oil spill, which has left at least 149,000 people suffering from livelihood losses, health risks and environmental damage. - dpa

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