Philippines to file charges against sunken oil tanker owners


File picture of the Japan Disaster Relief team helping the Philippine Coast Guard contain the oil spill from the sunken fuel tanker, MT Princess Empress, off the waters of Oriental Mindoro in this photo taken on March 16, 2023. — PCG

MANILA: The Philippine government said Wednesday (Feb 14) it will file criminal charges against the owners of an oil tanker that sank off a central island nearly a year ago, causing severe marine pollution.

More than half of the vessel's 800,000-litre (211,000-gallon) oil cargo spilled into the sea over hundreds of kilometres off Mindoro island, famed for having some of the world's most diverse marine life.

A justice department statement said it will file charges against tanker owners and operators RDC Reield Marine Services, as well as an unspecified number of corporate officers and certain employees it did not name.

The company falsified documents used to register the Princess Empress, including papers relating to its construction and its license to carry cargo, prosecutors alleged.

Regulators including 19 from the Philippine Coast Guard, two from the Maritime Industry Authority and one private individual will also be charged, the justice department added, without naming them.

"Negligence cannot be used as an excuse to destroy the environment and livelihood of people," Justice Secretary Crispin Remulla said in the statement.

The planned charges do not directly address the environmental damage caused by the February 28, 2023 sinking, which prevented thousands of fishermen along Mindoro's east coast from catching fish for months.

The statement did not say whether further charges would be filed.

The coast guard, the maritime regulator and a public relations firm representing the family-owned company did not immediately respond to AFP's requests for comment.

Under Philippine law, public officers found guilty of falsifying official documents can be jailed for up to 12 years.

Private individuals convicted of the same crime face up to six years in prison. - AFP

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