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Oil pollution fund panel OK’s siphoning operation

October 24, 2006

By Carla Gomez
Inquirer, Oct. 24, 2006

BACOLOD CITY – The International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund (IOPC) executive committee has approved the funding for pumping the remaining bunker fuel out of the sunken tanker Solar I, Presidential adviser for Western Visayas Rafael Coscolluela said Tuesday.

“Success. We got approval [for the oil retrieval operation] but the formal resolution will be out Friday. We had some difficulty with the Spanish delegation, but overwhelming support from everyone else.” Coscolluela said in a text message from London, where the committee met on Monday.

There were no further details since Coscolluela, who also heads the oil spill cleanup operations in Western Visayas, could not be reached through his cell phone.

IOPC claims manager Captain Patrick Joseph has said that IOPC Fund executive director Mans Jacobsson had informed the executive committee that the siphoning operation was necessary and was admissible for IOPC funding.

The IOPC provides compensation for oil pollution damage caused by spills from tankers.

The Solar I sank on August 11 with 2.1 million liters of Petron bunker fuel and caused an oil spill that has polluted the coasts of Guimaras and Iloilo.

Since typhoons are still expected to pass through the Philippines right through December, the operation to retrieve the oil remaining in the tanker would have to be undertaken early next year, Joseph said. The operation would require between 20 and 30 days of calm seas since the hardware that will be deployed cannot operate in foul weather, he explained.

The development came at about the same time the government was supposed to begin siphoning efforts at the sunken MT Solar I, which now rests at the seabed near Guimaras Island.

Defense Secretary Avelino Cruz Jr earlier said that “engineering works” were already underway at the 998-ton vessel while awaiting the IOPC’s decision.

He then said that the actual siphoning could begin by the third week of October.

On October 16, however, Cruz said that it would not be advisable to siphon off the oil sooner than December.

Citing information from the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Service Administration (Pagasa), Cruz said six significant weather disturbances were still expected to hit the country.

“That is their target…December [or] January, because the prediction of Pagasa is that there are six more typhoons coming this October and November. It’s not
favorable if you siphon off the oil when there is (a) typhoon,” Cruz told reporters.

National calamity

Two weeks after the August 11 oil spill, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo acknowledged the Guimaras oil spill a “national calamity.”

Some 39,000 residents in Iloilo, Guimaras and Negros Occidental have been coping with toxic fumes and oil sludge on their shores.

The ecological devastation spoiled close to 234 km of coastlines in 58 villages.

About 200,000 to 300,000 liters of fuel had already leaked out of the vessel, but oil sheens and blobs of petroleum have been occassionally sighted in the area where the tanker sunk.

Also in London, Doctor Anthony Golez, administrator of the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC), did not say how much money the IOPC released, but expressed willingness to provide additional details very soon.

“(We) will be back in Manila on Wednesday. It might be worth your story,” he GMANews.TV.

Up to $310 M

Petron Corp., which chartered the ill-fated vessel, is a member of the IOPC. The Board of Marine Inquiry (BMI) earlier found that the oil firm “overloaded” the Solar I with industrial fuel.

Last August 28, President Arroyo announced that the Philippines may draw some $310 million from the IOPC for oil spill cleanup and recovery efforts.

The compensation will be made available under the 1992 Civil Liability Convention (CLC) and Fund Convention.

Compensation is available under both the Civil Liability and Fund Conventions for loss of income as a direct consequence of an oil spill. Preventative and clean up costs incurred by governments and other bodies may also be claimed.

In cases where pollution damage exceeds the compensation limit under the Civil Liability and Fund Convention, the supplementary IOPC Funds can top up the remaining amount.

“The Philippines, being a signatory in the 1992 Civil Liability and Fund Conventions, has the right for compensation,” Mrs. Arroyo said.

“The biggest amount the fund can pay is $310 mllion,” she said. (With a report from GMANews.TV)

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