POLA, Philippines (AFP): A leaking oil tanker that sank in the Philippines three weeks ago has been found, officials said Tuesday (March 21), as the slick reached waters known for their rich marine life.
The Princess Empress was carrying 800,000 litres (210,000 gallons) of industrial fuel oil when it sank on Feb 28 off the central island of Mindoro, south of the capital Manila.
Diesel fuel and thick oil from the vessel have since contaminated the waters and beaches of Oriental Mindoro province and other islands.
The tanker was found by a Japanese remotely operated underwater vehicle (ROV), Oriental Mindoro Governor Humerlito Dolor told reporters.
It is nearly 400m (1,300 feet) below the waves.
Dolor said he received the first photos showing the exact location of the vessel on Tuesday morning.
The national disaster agency said the ROV would assess the hull's condition before a decision was made about how to "control the spill from its source".
The Philippines has sought assistance from several countries, including Japan, the United States and France, to help contain and clean up the slick.
Thousands of hectares of coral reefs, mangroves and seaweed could be affected, officials have said.
Oil spill booms made out of hay, human hair and other materials have been deployed to try to protect coastal waters that people in the fishing and tourism industries rely on for their livelihoods.
Oil has been spotted as far away as Casian Island, off the north coast of the western island of Palawan, about 350 kilometres (220 miles) southwest of where the tanker sank.
As feared, oil has also drifted north to the Verde Island Passage -- a busy sea lane between Mindoro and the Philippines' main island of Luzon.
Environment Secretary Maria Antonia Loyzaga said previously that the area was "globally recognised" for its marine biodiversity.
The Philippine Coast Guard said clean-up operations on Monday removed oil from the shores of three villages on Verde Island, which is popular with divers.
Oil also has been spotted further along the passage at Tingloy municipality on Maricaban Island, part of Batangas province.
Residents and coast guard personnel have been removing oil-coated seaweed and other debris from affected areas.
Tens of thousands of people have been affected by the spill, with scores falling ill. The government is distributing food packs and other assistance.
Among the hardest hit are fishermen, who have been ordered to stay on shore until they can fish safely.