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Folks welcome oil extraction from Solar I

February 8, 2007

THE people of Guimaras and Iloilo provinces are relieved by reports that the siphoning operations for the remaining bunker fuel in the sunken MT Solar I will already start in March.

Presidential Adviser for Western Visayas Rafael Coscolluela said this has long been the demand of the residents since their apprehension about continuous, and even worse damage to the marine resources of Guimaras remains for as long as the more than one million liters of
oil is still underwater.

“To them, this (siphoning operations) is a big relief dahil yun naman talaga ang demand nila. Dahil hangga’t hindi nasa-siphon ang bunker fuel, malakas pa rin ang apprehension nila,” Coscolluela said in a phone interview.

Coscolluela affirmed that the Italian SONSUD salvage company, which has an office in Singapore, will begin the siphoning operations on March 8, at the expense of the International Oil Pollution Compensation (IOPC) Fund. The $8-million operations will last for three to four weeks.

MT Solar 1 was sailing toward Zamboanga City from Bataan, with 2.1 million liters of bunker fuel, when it was battered by big waves, causing it to sink in the afternoon of Aug. 11, 2006 in the waters off Guimaras. The vessel now rests more than 600 meters deep underwater.

Coscolluela said it is believed that the ill-fated tanker still has about 1.6 million liters of bunker fuel.

The tragedy, dubbed as the worst oil spill in Philippine maritime history, affected a total of 8,580 families or 42,109 individuals from 65 villages of Guimaras and Iloilo.

It also resulted in the damage of 1,143.45 hectares of Marine Reserves of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR); 234.84 kilometers of coastline; 15.8 square kilometers of coral reef; 478.48 hectares of mangrove; 107 hectares of seaweed farms; and 974 hectares of fishpond.

But Coscolluela said that along with the assurance of the start of the siphoning operations, the government is tasking the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) to come up with contingency measures for any kind of emergencies, such as the further spill of bunker fuel to be salvaged.

He said the PCG is asked to prepare equipment and chemical dispersants, and for it to be on stand by during the actual siphoning operations for any possible accidents.

“By and large, we’re seeing normalization. The people have gone back to fishing,” Coscolluela said when asked about the present situation in Guimaras.

He said complaints of reduced fish catch are reported only rarely, but it could not yet be ascertained if it is a direct result of the tragedy.

To date, the IOPC has already released about P120 million in compensation to some of the 11,000 approved claims, mostly by fisherfolks, said Coscolluela.

“It’s possible that it will even exceed P250 million because they are still reviewing the rest of the claims. The IOPC received more than 18,000 claims,” he added.

As of now, Coscolluela said only four mangrove areas in Guimaras, one in Ajuy town in Iloilo and another one in Concepcion, also in Iloilo, remain as problem areas that require clean up activities. (GMANews.TV, Feb. 8, 2007)

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