Oil retrieval from Solar I tanker in Guimaras starts

March 12, 2007

Carla Gomez
Visayas Bureau, Inquirer.net

BACOLOD CITY, Philippines – Salvage operations to retrieve over a million liters of Petron oil from the MT Solar I, which sank off Guimaras seven months ago, began Sunday.

Environment officials boarded the international salvage vessel Allied Shield to ensure crew compliance with environment precautions required by the Philippine government.

The Allied Shield, owned by an Italian firm specializing in deepwater operations, docked at the Bacolod Real Estate Development Corp. (Bredco) port here Saturday night and sailed toward the site Sunday morning.

The Philippine Coast Guard will bar vessels from entering the one-kilometer radius around the area to avoid work disruption.

Lormelyn Claudio, environment director for Western Visayas, said the Allied Shield was required to submit an environment compliance certificate.

The ECC, among others, required the vessel to outline its mitigating measures should the retrieval operations cause some oil to leak into the sea, said Bienvenido Lipayon, Environment Management Bureau regional director.

Mark Phibbs, who heads the Sonsub Remotely Operated Vessels special projects, said it would take two to three days to survey the site after which drilling operations on the tanks of the submerged Solar I to remove the oil would start.

“We do not know how much oil is still on board the Solar I. The length of the recovery work will really depend on that,” he said.

The Solar I was carrying 13,000 barrels or over 2 million liters of bunker fuel in the vessel’s 10 tanks when it sank 15 nautical miles southwest of Guimaras Island, at a depth of 2,100 meters, on Aug. 11 last year. The 998-gross-ton tanker owned by Sunshine Maritime Development Corp. was under contract of giant oil firm Petron Corp. to ship fuel to Western Mindanao Power Corp. in Zamboanga del Sur.

An estimated quarter of a million liters of the tanker’s content was spilled as a result of the incident, affecting the coastal waters of Guimaras and part of Iloilo, making it the worst oil spill to hit the country in recent years.

Sonsub was contracted by the Protection and Indemnity Club, insurer of Sunshine Maritime.

P10 million per day

The retrieval operation, estimated to cost $6 million or about P10 million per day, is expected to last 20 to 25 days, according to Joe Nichols, International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund deputy director.

This is only the second time in history that such a deep-sea oil retrieval operation will be undertaken, Phibbs said.

Sonsub retrieved 13,500 tons of crude oil without spillage from the tanker Prestige, which sank in 10,000 feet of water 240 kilometers from the coast of Spain, he said.

Sonsub will use the latest technology, including the 80-meter dynamic positioning vessel Allied Shield and two ROVs to work on the sunken vessel, he added.

The ROVs will drill two holes in each of the 10 sunken oil tanks containing oil.

Water will be allowed to flow into one hole to displace any remaining oil, which will flow from the second hole. A shuttle container will be used to capture the oil to be transferred on to the Allied Shield, he said.

The crew will operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week to hasten the recovery.

Leak prevention

Lipayon said Allied Shield had given assurance that oil booms and skimmers would be put in place to prevent any spread of oil that might leak during the retrieval.

The Philippine Coast Guard also has a second defense of oil booms while a third defense, made up of indigenous spill booms, has also been set up by Guimaras barangays, he said.

Livino Duran, provincial environment and natural resources officer, said the DENR had formed four teams to monitor the operation.

One team will be based at Bredco port, where the recovered oil will be off-loaded, to monitor the volume of recovered fuel, take samples and ensure safety precautions in its transfer to its final destination.

Phibbs said Sonsub had a contingency plan to address possible risks and ensure a fail-safe operation. Among these are oil spill response tugboats that will be deployed during the retrieval operations.



  1. P10 million a day?! Whoah! I hope the taxpayers would not shoulder this cost.

  2. Well…Petron is a government-owned and -controlled corporation Jhay… 😦

  3. Let’s hope they get it out OK.

    A one off spill is something that remarkably in most parts of the world it does seem possible for nature and fisheries to recover from and often more quickly then one might fear. BUT, a long period of regular slicks emerging from a rusting tanker hulk, now that really will damage the environment, fisheries etc.

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