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Solar I still leaking; slick heading to Tubbataha

August 30, 2006

OIL continues to leak from the sunken tanker MT Solar I, a report submitted by the Japan Disaster Relief Team on Tuesday said.

The Japan Disaster Relief Team, composed of three Japan Coast Guard (JCG) experts and one JICA official, returned to Japan August 29 after concluding its examination and assessment of the Guimaras oil spill incident.

The assessment was made after a week-long operation in Guimaras Island from August 22 to 28, a press statement issued by the Japanese embassy said.

In its report, the team said that oil continues to leak out from the sunken tanker Solar-1.

The team did not say how much oil has leaked out although Philippine Coast Guard officials earlier said they believe that oil – about 500,000 to 700,000 liters – have leaked from the ruptured containers of the sunken vessel.

The report came a day before the arrival of a Japanese salvage ship – with a remotely operated underwater vehicle capable of conducting an underwater survey – in the Guimaras oil spill area.

The ship, called Shinsei Maru is expected in the Guimaras strait Wednesday night.

“The [oil] leak is continuous. [We have estimated that] 500,000 to 700,000 liters of oil have been spilled. That would be determined and confirmed once the [remote operated vehicle (ROV)] dives down to determine how many tankers have ruptured and how many liters of oil are still remaining in the vessel,” Coast Guard spokesman Joseph Coyme said at the weekly Fernandina Media Forum.

The figure is an increase from the Coast Guard’s initial estimate of 200,000 to 300,000 liters of oil that leaked out after the M/T Solar 1’s sinking on August 11, Coyme said. The vessel was carrying more than 1.8 million liters of oil when it sank.

Coyme said the oil slick has already affected about 3,000 families, seven coastal towns in Guimaras and Iloilo, 28 coastal barangays, 200 kilometers of coastline and 1,340 hectares of mangrove.

An ANC report said that the oil slick was breaking up and spreading to different areas in Western Visayas. The report said a portion of the spill is also heading toward Tubbataha Reef, which is located in the Sulu Sea, 98 nautical miles southeast of Puerto Princesa City in Palawan.

In Cebu City, environmentalist and lawyer Antonio Oposa said northern Cebu is now safe from the oil slick in Guimaras Island, according to a Sunstar report.

Oposa, head of the Visayan Sea Squadron and national environmental team leader of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, said that all the bunker oil in the sunken tanker has already seeped out.

His announcement that Bantayan Island is already safe was based on facts, he stressed, as radar satellite showed the direction of the spill.

(Click GMA News and ABS-CBN News for the full stories, Aug. 30, 2006.)

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