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Remulla: MT Princess Empress ‘a rebuilt scrap’, not meant to be a tanker

The ill-fated MT Princess Empress was so old that it had already been scrapped, contrary to claims that it was a new vessel, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said on Thursday.

Remulla said the government is looking to file both criminal and civil cases in connection with the sinking of the tanker that resulted in an oil spill now threatening the ecosystem in Oriental Mindoro and neighboring provinces.

“It is a rebuilt scrap... It was not built to be a tanker from the very beginning,” Remulla said.

Remulla said investigators have an affidavit from an individual who knew about how the allegedly old vessel had been rebuilt.

“Ang NBI is on it already... They’re doing the studies now. They’re conducting field interviews," Remulla said.

The statement supposedly detailed where the scrap had been dumped, where it was taken, and where it was built.

‘MT Dorothy’

In John Consulta's exclusive report on "24 Oras," witness “Dodong” showed GMA Integrated News photos and videos of the ship rehabilitation.

The ship was said to have been known previously as the LPG tanker MT Dorothy before it became MT Princess Empress. It was rebuilt in Navotas in 2020.

“Scrap value na 'yan eh. Pwede nang ibenta sa junk shop. 'Yung ilalim hindi napalitan,” Dodong said.

(That's scrap value. You could sell it at the junk shop. The bottom has not been changed.)

Remulla said the vessel could already be 50 years old.

He said there might have been an intent to deceive from the start due to claims that the tanker was brand new.

“Ang sinabi raw sa Coast Guard ay bagong bago itong barkong ito. At hindi pala siya bago. Ito ay luma na, scrap na. Scrap na siya na ni-rebuild. Unang ni-rebuild para maging LPG carrier tapos ni-rebuild na naman. Pinahaba para maging tanker,” Remulla said.

(The PCG was supposedly told that it was quite new. But it turned out that it was not new. It's already old, it's already scrap that has been rebuilt. It was first rebuilt to be an LPG carrier and then it was again rebuilt. It was made longer to become a tanker.)

“The utterances after the occurrence of the fact, ‘yung sinabi sa Coast Guard na bagong-bago yung barko, parang may intent to deceive na sa simula't sapul pa lang. Kaya dapat tignan natin itong bagay na ito,” Remulla said.

(There may be an intent to deceive in telling the PCG that it was a new vessel. We have to look into it. )

Insurance claims

Remulla said investigators were also looking at the insurance angle.

“And we’re looking from the angle of insurance also kasi parang may insurance siyang napakalaki,” Remulla said.

(We are looking at the angle of possible insurance claim because it's a hefty sum.)

RDC Reield Marine Services Incorporated, the owner of the MT Princess Empress, denied the allegations that the ship could be 50 years old already.

The owner, however, declined to comment on the allegations that the ship was built to carry sand and that the ship did not follow the gale warnings of weather bureau PAGASA.

Remulla said that the government is looking to file cases against the owners of the sunken MT Princess Empress.

When asked how the Department of Justice could assure that justice will be served for those affected by the oil spill, Remulla said criminal cases would be filed against those who will found liable.

Criminal cases

“We will run after them. We can assure you that we will not stop. We will run after them... Hindi ito civil case lang. Criminal cases will be filed against those perpetrators,” Remulla said.

(It's not just a civil case. Criminal cases will also be filed against the perpetrators.)

He said officials are sorting out the evidence and collating the data necessary to build a case.

According to Remulla, the owners had been informed about gale warnings on February 27 before sailing.

He said that on the midnight of February 28, they were again told that it would be difficult to sail as the waters were somewhat turbulent.

The MT Princess Empress sank on February 28 off Najuan. The PCG said on Thursday that it was carrying 900,000 liters of industrial fuel oil and not 800,000 as previously reported.

Almost 100,000 residents in the province have already been affected by the oil spill.

Approximately 591 hectares of coral reefs, 1,626 hectares of mangroves, and 362 hectares of seagrass or seaweeds could meanwhile be potentially affected by the effects of the oil spill, according to the DENR.

‘P128-million damage’

Meanwhile, in a separate ambush interview, Justice spokesperson Mico Clavano said damage to livelihood in the area is now at P128 million.

“It was about P128 million worth of livelihood for the fishermen and those that, siguro merong fisheries or aquaculture… And it was determined na nine out of the 15 municipalities doon po ay affected na po,” Clavano said.

(It has caused P128 million worth of livelihood losses for fishermen and those who own fisheries or aquaculture. It was determined that nine out of the 15 municipalities are already affected.)

“And we have to change the scene of the crime every day, redefine the total area every day, dahil po patuloy pa po yung oil na nag se-spread doon sa area na iyon,” he said.

(The oil spill continues to spread in the area every day.) —VAL/NB/BM, GMA Integrated News