Coast Guard officials struggling to contain a dangerous oil spill in the Philippines expressed frustration yesterday that a sunken tanker described by environmentalists as a "ticking time bomb" had not yet been raised.
"What has got up our goat is that we hear a lot of talk about what should be done but nothing has happened. That ship sank over a week ago and officials are still talking," local Coast Guard Commander Harold Jarder said.
Some 189,000 liters of oil has already leaked from the Solar I, which sank in rough seas Aug. 11 off Guimaras Island with 1,893,000 liters of thick fuel oil on board.
The slick, which has already covered 200km of coastline in black sludge and is threatening marine reserves, extends 15 nautical miles (28km) from where the ship sank, Jarder said.
His comments about the country's worst-ever oil spill came as the owners of the Solar I said they were consulting with experts about raising the vessel.
Clemente Cancio, president of Sunshine Maritime Development, said the company was in talks with "international maritime experts" to see if the 998-tonne tanker can be raised.
Two British maritime experts from the International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation inspected the site of the spill on Friday, he said, without giving any further information.
According to the Coast Guard, the tanker is resting on the seabed in 900m of water and is still leaking oil from one of its 10 tanks that ruptured when it sank.
Von Hernandez, Greenpeace's southeast Asian campaign director, warned that urgent efforts were needed to either bring the ship to the surface or to pump the remaining oil out of the stricken vessel's tanks.
"The longer that tanker stays underwater, the greater the danger. What you are looking at is a ticking time bomb," Hernandez said.
Jarder, who conducted an air survey of the area early yesterday, said he had six vessels working in the zone.
"We are using booms to contain the oil and scooping it up for disposal. But we are trying to cut down on the use of dispersants," he said.
"At the moment the weather has been on our side but the real problem is still on the seabed," he said.
On Guimaras Island, small groups of residents busily continued shovelling the sludge off the blackened beaches in and around Nueva Valencia, one of the worst-affected areas.
Petron Corp, which chartered the vessel, has placed booms along many of the beaches to hold the oil back.
"We are just collecting the oil and putting it in plastic bags and stacking them on the beach," local official Jeffrey Candecila said.
Relief agencies have begun handing out food to many of the hundreds of poor fishermen whose livelihoods have been endangered by the spill.
Cancio said he did not know why oil was still leaking out of the tanker: "That is one of the things we have to find out," he said.
"The oil has to be contained," he said.
He said that although the tanker was launched in 1988, it had just come out of dry dock in February and was certified seaworthy by the Paris-based organization Bureau Veritas.