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RISKY STRATEGIES

September 18, 2006

Siphoning bunker oil may cause another spill – experts
By GEROME DALIPE IV
Panay News, Sept. 18, 2006

ILOILO City – Experts challenged the plan to siphon the remaining bunker oil out of the sunken Solar 1 tanker at the bottom of the Guimaras Strait. It could trigger another oil spill, they warned.

For its part, the Department of Health (DOH) said workers hired by Petron Corp. in the oil spill cleanup should properly be apprised of the health risks related their work. It was learned that the workers were not informed of the adverse health effects of their continued exposure to bunker fuel.

Re-floating the tanker is the better option, asserted Dr. Giovanni A. Tapang and Dr. Aloysius U. Baes of the Center for Environmental Concerns (CEC) and Samahan ng Nagtataguyod ng Agham at Teknolohiya para sa Sambayanan (Agham).

According to the Philippine Coast Guard and the National Disaster Coordinating Council, holes could be drilled in the tanker’s fuel tanks through which tubes can be inserted to siphon out the remaining bunker fuel.

But Tapang and Baes said the tanker must be re-floated at the soonest possible time, while the water current is still favorable to the tanker which lies 600 meters underwater.

Earlier, Gerry Ledesma of the Negros Forest and Marine Conservation Foundation said strong westerly winds bringing strong sea current could rupture the sunken M/T Solar 1 and start leaking bunker fuel again.

Acting with speed is a must, said Tapang and Baes who were here over the weekend. They are among the many scientists who would be conducting technical assessment on the widespread impact of the worst oil spill to hit the country, on marine life and mangrove reserves in the island province.

WINDS OF CHANGE

The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) earlier said there is a need to fast track the MT Solar 1 oil spill cleanup before a typhoon affects Visayas in the coming weeks or before the wind pattern reverses in November.

PAGASA officer-in-charge Dr. Prisco Nilo said that the entry of a typhoon that could affect Guimaras would accelerate the transport of oil spill to the north.

Nilo also said that if a typhoon would directly pass the site of the oil spill, the ocean current will cause the oil to spill in different directions.

Nilo said the oil spill cleanup must be fast tracked before the wind pattern reverses in November which could possibly “transport” the oil spill in the vicinity of the Visayas.

He added that from the current wind pattern from southwest to the northeast, the wind pattern will completely reverse, resulting to the transport of the spilled oil towards Mindanao and Southern Visayas area this November up to around February or early March.

Tapang and Baes said the continued stay of tanker in the seabed puts at continued risk the environment and marine life.

The Save our Lives and Save or Seas (SOS) said the oil spill has affected at least 4,000 fishermen and roughly 26,000 individuals.

The plan to siphon the remaining oil from the sunken tanker still has to get the approval of the International Oil Pollution Compensation, said IOPC representative Joe Nichols.

During the siphoning, “there is little risk of a significant release of oil from the vessel,” he added.

Nichols said the IOPC could choose between at least six companies from Norway, Italy, and The Netherlands to take out the remaining oil from the tanker.

The Philippine Coast Guard favors the siphoning. If the PCG-recommended Norwegian company – Framo Engineering – would be hired to siphon the remaining bunker oil, it would take at least one month for it to arrive in the Philippines.

The PCG recommended the Norwegian company, citing its experience and knowledge in handling such cases.

Task Force Guimaras chairman Rafael Coscolluela said, however, that it remains uncertain if the Norwegian company would be tapped.

Nichols said an estimated 1.3 million of the two million liters of bunker fuel has leaked out of Solar I since August 11.

It also remains to be seen if IOPC would shoulder the cost of the siphoning, which could take around 20 days, Nichols added.

If the IOPC decides to shoulder the siphoning, it would take several more weeks to plan the operations, Nichols said.

HEALTH RISK

Meanwhile, Task Force Oil Spill (SOS) reiterated that the “No Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), No Work” policy and adherence to protective requirements should be observed by all workers in the oil spill areas.

The DOH said the PPEs are very important as they can minimize exposure to hazards. In the use of the PPE, it is important that a “buddy system” approach should be adapted whereby the other partner checks their partner for correctness of use of PPEs and vice versa. At the end of the use of the PPEs, these should be disposed of properly and all new PPEs are recommended for each work session.

To safeguard the health of those who are involved in the clean up, the DOH said workers should properly be apprised of the health risks related to the oil spill clean up. The registry of all cleaners should not only include basic data but also baseline health status of the worker at the time they are hired.

A regular medical evaluation of the worker should also be made up to six months after the worker has stopped doing the clean up.

Maximum daily exposure of the workers per day, according to the DOH, should not exceed five hours. Having the workers clean on a rotation basis, with different teams working in the mornings and afternoons, could do this.

Age limits have also been set for the cleaners, that they should not be less than 20 and not more than 50 years old so they can adequately perform their assigned tasks.

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