Manila Wants to Siphon Oil from Sunken Tanker
MANILA The Philippines wants to drill through the hull of a sunken tanker and siphon off its cargo of industrial fuel to curtail pollution washing up on the central island of Guimaras, disaster officials said on Tuesday.
The Solar 1 sank in rough seas on Aug. 11 and leaked nearly 500,000 litres of bunker oil, affecting 40,000 people and 220 km (120 miles) of coastline in the Visayas region.
The tanker, still holding around 1.5 million litres of oil, was found by Japanese salvage experts to be upright under about 640 metres (2,100 feet) of water off Guimaras.
"We will siphon off that oil from that sunken tanker," Avelino Cruz, the defence secretary and head of a government task force to clean up the country's worst oil spill, told a news conference.
He said the government of the developing Southeast Asian nation was awaiting a decision from the London-based International Oil Pollution Compensation (IOPC) agency on whether it would fund efforts to recover the fuel.
"We'll know that by early next week," Cruz said.
Joe Nichols, an IOPC representative, said it had funds to recover oil from the sunken tanker, similar to two cases in South Korea.
He said the IOPC was consulting with salvage contractors with expertise in the feasibility of pumping out oil from a tanker submerged so far.
"It's never been done," Nichols told reporters. "This particular method has never been done at this depth."
Based on previous recovery operations, he said it would take 20-45 days to pump the oil to another tanker on the surface.
"We think that a substantial amount has been lost and so recovery operations could take about 20 days," Nichols added.
Neither Cruz nor Nichols would give estimates of the cost of the recovery operation.
The 998-tonne tanker was contracted by Petron Corp., the largest oil refiner in the Philippines, to deliver bunker fuel to a power plant on the southern island of Mindanao when huge waves and strong winds caused the ship to sink last month.
Petron, owned by the Philippine government and Saudi Aramco with 40 percent each, has promised to do everything possible to help affected villagers and clean coastlines in Guimaras and Iloilo provinces coated in black sludge.
Petron has hired about 1,000 local residents, paying them as much as 300 pesos ($5.90) per day, to scrub the beaches and mangrove trees.