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Proposals for Solar 1 siphoning operations evaluated

September 28, 2006

The Philippine Star 09/29/2006

PROPOSALS for siphoning the remaining oil in Solar I from salvage contractors are now being evaluated, an official of the International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund, 1992 (1992 Fund) said yesterday.

Joe Nichols, deputy director of the 1992 Fund, said Shipowners’ P&I Club and 1992 Fund were evaluating the proposals.

The 1992 Fund, an intergovernmental organization based in London, and Shipowners’ P&I Club, the third party insurers of Solar I, will be the ones to provide compensation for oil pollution damage within the framework of two international conventions.

The conventions cover damages resulting from spills of persistent oil from tankers.

The final decision on whether the cost of siphoning the oil from the sunken tanker is covered by the conventions would be made by the 1992 Fund’s executive committee, which meets on the week of Oct. 23.

This was confirmed by Guimaras oil spill incident commander Rafael Coscolluela. He said that once the 1992 Fund has contracted a salvaging company for the operations, it would also take about four to six weeks to deploy offloading vessels and equipment. Another two months would lapse before all the remaining bunker oil is sucked out of Solar I.

“We cannot rush the offloading. We have to plan and prepare, and take the proper precautions. Safety and reduced risk is important,” he said.

According to the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) commander for Western Visayas, Capt. Luis Tuason, there are only four companies capable of offloading the oil. He, however, declined to name these foreign companies.

Meanwhile, the Shipowners’ P&I Club is pressing ahead with the necessary preparation for a siphoning operation to minimize delay, pending a decision by the executive committee.

“The siphoning of oil from a tanker 630 meters underwater is a very complex operation and requires very detailed planning. With the vessel’s proximity to sensitive environmental resources, we have to be very careful to ensure that any siphoning operations do not cause further damage,” Nichols said in a statement.

The PCG is also doing its own preparation for the offloading operations. Tuason said they will be laying out ocean spill booms in case the offloading operations go awry and oil is released into the waters.

“The only enemy (of offloading operations) is the weather and the strong current,” Tuason said.

In a presentation to the National Disaster Coordinating Council earlier this month, based on the report from the survey vessel Shinsei Maru, the 1992 Fund said that Solar I was deeply embedded in mud on the seabed and was therefore in stable condition. As such, there was little likelihood of a major release of oil in the short term.

Representatives of the Shipowners P&I Club and the 1992 Fund have also conducted oil pollution claims and compensation workshops in Guimaras aimed at assisting victims of the incident to process claims. — Ronilo Pamonag

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