Uncertainty hounds Solar 1 siphoning

October 11, 2006

ILOILO CITY – Uncertainty still hounds the planned siphoning off of the remaining bunker fuel from the sunken tanker Solar I off Guimaras Island as the oil spill enters its second month today.

National Disaster Coordinating Council spokesperson Anthony Roland Golez Jr. said in a press conference here yesterday that the decision on the proposal to retrieved the remaining oil will only be known after the meeting of the executive committee of the International Oil Pollution Compensation Funds on Oct 23-27 in London.

Golez said that while the IPOCF initially informed the NDCC that the operations could be implemented in December, the date is still not definite.

But he said the NDCC expects the IOPCF to approve the recommendation to siphon of an estimated 1.7 million liters of bunker fuel from the sunken vessel 640 meters underwater by employing a remote off-loading system. The actual operation could last from 20 to 40 days, said Golez.

The Solar I sank 15 nautical miles southwest of Guimaras on August 11 carrying 2 million liters of bunker fuel.

The spill has affected 65 villages, 8,401 families or 41,299 persons in seven towns in the provinces of Iloilo and Guimaras as of Monday. Fifty-three families or 240 persons from five barangays in Guimaras remain in evacuation centers because of the oil sludge. Golez said the siphoning off could be hampered by remaining typhoons that are expected to hit the country this year. Government forecasters expect 20 typhoons to enter the country this year and the latest, typhoon “Neneng”, was the 14th.

Golez said a typhoon happening during the operation to siphon off the remaining bunker fuel from the sunken tanker would be “another disaster.”

“We will wait until conditions are safe,” said Golez.

Cmdr. Harold Jarder, Coast Guard station chief in Iloilo and on-scene commander in the containment of the oil spill, said the leak coming out from the tanker is “minimal and very much containable.” He said the number of vessels deployed at site of the leak has been reduced to one Coast Guard ship and a a contracted tugboat.

The NDCC also reported that the level of hydrogen sulfide in Guimaras is safe. Golez said that this was based in a report of the Department of Health during the NDCC meeting on Sept. 26.

None of the seven sites tested exceeded the standards set by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, an NDCC statement said.

But the evacuees cannot yet return to their homes until a clean bill of health has been issued by the DOH and DENR after a “post-clearing” test for toxicity has been conducted by a team composed of various government agencies.(NPB, Visayan Daily Star, Oct. 11, 2006)


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