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Solve the oil mystery

April 3, 2007

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MARK Phibbs, head of the Allied Shield team that conducted the retrieval of oil from the sunken tanker Solar I off Guimaras, declared yesterday that very little oil remains in the 10 tanks of the sunken oiler.

“As of today, we are finished and we can guarantee that there is no more oil left on Solar I,” declared Phibbs.

That supposedly allays apprehensions about the prospect of more oil spilling to the Guimaras Strait and put at ease the fears of environmentalists and scientists, including of course local officials.

The problem, however, is nobody can seem to explain the disappearance of an estimated 900,000 liters of oil in the holds of the sunken tanker.

Allied Shield is owned by SonSub, an Italian firm that specializes in deep water operations. It was contracted by the Protection and Indemnity Club, insurer of Solar I, to retrieve the oil from 2,100 feet in the Guimaras Strait.

Initially, some 150,000 liters of oil reportedly spilled from Solar I. And there was a tremendous outcry for the retrieval of the remaining oil before these could spill into the sea again.

What is intriguing was the report that the Philippine Coast Guard early on had started looking into reports that Solar I went down because there was another vessel, which was taking oil from it. But that was terminated shortly after.

Now, that possibility looms large because of the discovery of the reported disappearance of oil in the holds of the tanker.

Phibbs, himself, said as far as he and his team knows, the seals on the tanks were intact and there was no indication of tampering.

He declined to speculate whether or not there were cracks at the bottom of the tanks. “We could not see underneath because the wreck was deeply buried in the mud,” he added, but said there may be cracks below.

But that’s the mystery. Where did the 900,000 liters go? How did it just vanish into the air?

That’s a major mystery for the authorities to solve.

(The rest of the column at Phil. Star, April 3, 2007.)

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