A leaking oil tanker that sank in the Philippines three weeks ago has been found as the slick reached waters known for their rich marine life.
The tanker was found by a Japanese remotely operated underwater vehicle (ROV), Oriental Mindoro Governor Humerlito Dolor told reporters. It is nearly 400 metres (1,300 feet) below the waves.
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Dolor said he received the first photos showing the exact location of the vessel on Tuesday morning. Plugging the leaks and extracting any remaining oil from the tanker was urgent, he added.
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 MT Princess Empress was carrying 800,000 litres (210,000 gallons) of industrial fuel oil when it sank on February 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.
Thousands of people have been affected by the spill with many falling ill. Thousands of hectares of coral reefs, mangroves and seaweed could be affected.
The Philippines has sought assistance from several countries to help contain and clean up the slick. Japan and the United States have sent teams of coastguard personnel to help.
Oil spill booms made out of hay, human hair, and other materials have been deployed to try to protect coastal waters, which 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 350km (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 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 has also been spotted further along the passage at Tingloy municipality on Maricaban Island, part of Batangas province.
Residents and coastguard personnel have been removing oil-coated seaweed and other debris from affected areas. Among the hardest hit are fishermen who have been ordered to stay on shore until they can fish safely.