Tourist paradise Palawan prepares to tackle Philippine oil spill with human hair, old clothes

The oil spill from the sunken fuel tanker MT Princess Empress on the shores of Pola, in Oriental Mindoro province, on March 8. PHOTO: REUTERS

PALAWAN – Residents of a Philippine island famed for its white-sand beaches and turquoise waters are arming themselves with human hair and used clothing in a bid to stop oil washing onto the shore.

People living in the town of Casian, in Palawan Province, have been cleaning the beaches after part of an oil slick travelled almost 300km, following the sinking of the Princess Empress tanker in the province of Oriental Mindoro in early March.

The ship was carrying 800,000 litres of industrial fuel when it went down.

It turned swathes of nearby shoreline black and led the authorities to declare a state of calamity.

Palawan, which is often named one of the most beautiful beach destinations in the world, started seeing evidence of the spill last Friday, according to the Philippine Coast Guard.

The coast guard joined residents in clearing pockets of fuel from beaches near the town.

Residents in neighbouring El Nido – a major tourist magnet known for its coral reefs and diving spots – have been preparing for the worst.

They have been collecting hair from barber shops and old clothing which can be stuffed into fishing nets to use as makeshift oil containment booms, according to Mr Andy Capones, who heads a team of responders from the local disaster management office.

“We need to act together because if the oil reaches our area, tourism will take a hit since people can’t go island hopping,” he said.

The spill is also threatening the Verde Island Passage, a body of water between Mindoro and Batangas provinces.

It is home to endangered species including whale sharks, hawksbill turtles and manta rays.

Some of the oil may reach the passage by Thursday, the University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute said on Monday.

The Philippine Coast Guard has sought the help of the United States in containing and cleaning up the oil spill, which has taken a heavy toll on tourism and fishing in Oriental Mindoro.

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr has directed the authorities to eliminate the slick within four months.

The South-east Asian nation is targeting tourist arrivals of around 4.8 million this year, nearly double last year’s level, following the easing of Covid-19 restrictions. BLOOMBERG

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