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Solar I sinking brings Philippines' worst ever oil spill

Manila: Anger is growing at the stalled efforts to minimise the huge damage to the environment from the sinking of the Solar I tanker in the Visayas region of the Philippines 10 days ago which continues to leak oil to the surrounding areas. A team using robotic submarine equipment plans to inspect the sunken tanker, Dow Jones reports. The Luxembourg-based insurer of the sunken Solar 1 has pledged to ship the equipment from Singapore in a few days after it appoints a salvage company that will undertake the deep-sea inspection and possibly the retrieval of the tanker, Coast Guard Capt Luis Tuason said on the weekend.

The 998-ton Solar 1 was transporting about 2 million liters of bunker fuel from an oil refinery in northern Bataan province to southern Zamboanga peninsula when it sank in bad weather on August 11 off central Guimaras island. Oil has polluted coastal areas in a region known for white-sand beach resorts and marine reserves. The tanker is lying 900 metres below sea level.

Authorities estimate the Solar 1 has spilled about 350,000 litres of oil since it sank, causing one of the Philippines' worst oil spills, damaging some 300 kilometers of coastline, 500 hectares of mangroves and 60 hectares of seaweed plantations, affecting 26,000 villagers in Guimaras, provincial governor Joaquin Nava said.

Philippine officials have pressed tanker owner Sunshine Maritime Development Corp. and Petron Corp, which hired the tanker to transport its fuel, to take rapid measures to prevent further spillage near impoverished Guimaras, about 500 kilometers southeast of Manila.

The captain of the sunken Philippine tanker was not properly trained to pilot the ship, a Manila newspaper claimed Sunday. The findings of a preliminary investigation into the August 11 disaster by the Maritime Industry Authority showed the tanker captain did not have "advance training on oil tanker operations" according to a report in the Philippine Daily Inquirer. According to the Inquirer, the Authority found that the tanker's captain, Norberto Aguro, "although a licensed master mariner did not have advance training on oil tanker operations, which is required for the master onboard an oil tanker." The Authority's investigator, Arnie Santiago, was quoted by the paper as saying that Aguro's "certificate of competency limited him to serve onboard chemical tankers only."

Reaction to the spill has been so slow and the spill so large that Greenpeace even urged babrbers to donate all their trimmed hair to the area as a desperate way to soak up the oil.  [21/08/06]

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