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Oil siphoned from sunken tanker off Guimaras

March 16, 2007

MANILA – Seven months after a sunken tanker caused a major oil spill in the Philippines, a ship has begun siphoning the remaining fuel from the wreckage 640 meters (2,000 feet) under water, officials said Friday.

The tanker spilled some of its cargo of 2 million liters (500,000 gallons) of industrial fuel oil off the central island of Guimaras, damaging marine reserves and affecting about 26,000 people who depend on fishing.

Desperate attempts were made to contain the oil in the province, known for beach resorts and a pristine marine environment.

Weeks after the Aug. 11 sinking, authorities collected cast-off clippings of human hair from salon owners and volunteers, then put it in permeable sacks and used them as improvised booms to mop up the oil.

The oil recovery ship Allied Shield, which arrived in the area last week, began collecting the remaining fuel, an operation that will take about 20 days and cost US$6 million (euro4.5 million), shouldered by the insurer of the sunken Solar I.

Petron Corporation, the Philippines’ largest oil firm, was found partly responsible for the disaster. A special investigation board has said the tanker was overloaded and the skipper incompetent.

“The retrieval of oil from the Solar I will finally end all speculation whether there is still oil on the vessel, and more importantly, ease the apprehensions of the people from the Visayas (region),” Petron Chairman Nicasio Alcantara said in a full-page ad in major newspapers.

Since the disaster, the company has embarked on a major public-relations exercise while paying for the cleanup.

“We made a commitment to Guimaras to do whatever it takes to restore it to normalcy,” Alcantara said.

The oil recovery is run by Sonsub, an Italian company specializing in deep-water operations.

Sonsub says it successfully retrieved 13,500 tons of crude from the tanker Prestige when it sank off Spain in 2002.

Project director Robin Galleti said the extraction involves two remotely operated vehicles – remote-controlled undersea devices that will drill holes in the tanker’s cargo tanks and insert a pipe. A tank will be then be lowered to capture the oil.

Underwater cameras will monitor the process while the recovery ship uses a global positioning system to remain directly above the tanker, Galleti said. (AP, via SunStar, Mar. 16, 2007)

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