M/T Solar I oil to be retrieved soon

March 6, 2007

By Bassinette Noderama
The Daily Guardian

MARCH 14 is the tentative date for the start of the retrieval operations of the remaining bunker fuel inside M/T Solar I. The oil tanker sank off the island-province of Guimaras last August 11, 2006. The vessel’s cargo was more than a million liters when the country’s worst ecological disaster occurred.

The International Oil Pollution Compensation (IOPC) commissioned Sonsub, a subsidiary of the Italian firm Saipem. Equipment will be deployed from Singapore to Guimaras after February 28. It took some time to design the equipment that will be used specifically for the operation.

Sonsub had conducted the oil recovery operations on the sunken tankers Erika (off France) and Prestige (off Spain). Prestige sank more than 3,000 meters. Solar I is currently located 639 meters under water (about 20 kilometers south of Guimaras).

The 80-meter dynamic positioning vessel named Allied Shield will be the main hub of the retrieval operation. The vessel will use thrusters to stabilize its position in the site where Solar I sank. Other support vessels (a tanker that will collect the recovered oil and oil spill response boats) will also be deployed.

Remote operated vehicles instead of human divers will examine and drill holes in the hull of Solar I. Two holes will be drilled into each of the ten tanks of the sunken ship.

The first hole will be for seawater to enter the tank. “Since oil is lighter than water, it will float to the surface making the recovery operation easier. If the tank is 78% full of water, a second hole will be drilled for oil. A fail-safe valve will be installed to control the flow of the remaining oil inside the tanker,” Robin Galleti said. He is the Sonsub commercial manager.

Shuttle tubes with motor pumps will extract the oil from the tank. The shuttle will be attached to the valve. Once the shuttle is filled with oil, it will float up to the tanker that will gather the recovered oil.

Galleti added, “We will be operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to hasten the recovery. We also have our contingency plan in case of accidental spills. We will have oil spill boats, an aircraft, oil spill booms, skimmers, and other equipment. We assure that it will be a fail safe operation.”

There is no specific timetable because the duration of operation will depend upon the amount of bunker fuel inside Solar I. Sonsub had gathered data from earlier assessments on the spill. They asked samples from Petron to study the kind of oil inside the sunken tanker.

IOPC estimated the total cost of operation to be US$6-12 million. Billing depends on the daily operation. The contract is not a fixed price one. The exact price will be known after the operation.

The confirmation that the oil retrieval operation will start soon is good news indeed. The assurance of a fail safe operation makes it better. If Sonsub was able to retrieve oil from Prestige that sank 3,000 meters under the sea, it can surely retrieve oil from Solar I which is just 639 meters under water.

The sooner the bunker fuel is removed from the belly of Solar I, the better. The sunken tanker is lying on a fault line. Just imagine what will happen if an earthquake occurs.

Several more days and the retrieval operations will start. It will also be the start of another chapter in the lives of Guimarasnons. That August 11 tragedy was really a nightmare. It was devastating to see the destruction of what our ancestors had protected for generations.

Once again, many thanks to those who are helping us start again.


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