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Philippines Oil-Spill Tanker 'May Have Sunk During Cargo Heist'

File photo: Barrels of oil, collected from the recent devastating spill in the Philippines. Photo courtesy of AFP.
by Staff Writers
Manila (AFP) Sep 18, 2006
A tanker which sank last month causing the Philippines' worst-ever oil spill may have been holed by another vessel while illegally off-loading at sea, investigators said Monday. Evidence gathered by a remotely operated underwater vehicle that surveyed the wreck found a triangular hole on the left side of the Solar I, along with scratches and open valves on its cargo hold, a justice department official said.

The 988-ton Solar I plunged to the ocean floor on August 11, releasing tens of thousands of gallons of oil that destroyed a marine reserve, ruined local fishing grounds and covered stretches of coastline in black sludge.

Two crew members are missing and presumed dead in the accident, which a maritime inquiry blamed on overloading and the inadequate training of its captain, Norberto Aguro.

The vessel was carrying 500,000 gallons of industrial fuel oil on board.

Justice Undersecretary Fidel Exconde said the video evidence prompted a fresh inquiry into the possibility that its hull had been "punctured" by another ship.

He said in a memorandum to Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez made available to the press that video evidence "bolster the theory that another ship was travelling alongside Solar I when it sank and it probably caused the triangular hole in the hull."

These findings "also point out the possibility that the unknown vessel travelling alongside Solar was engaged in (cargo stealing) operations," Exconde said.

Exconde said the video evidence will be studied by prosecutors further.

Meanwhile, the cargo owners Petron Corp. denied the tanker was overloaded when it left the company's refinery on Manila Bay.

"Our records show that the loaded volume was 2.19 million liters or 98 percent of the ship's capacity of 2.24 million liters," the listed refiner's corporate secretary Luis Maglaya said in a letter to the Philippine Stock Exchange.

Petron said it will "continue our clean-up operations and help in the rehabilitation of the affected areas" on the island of Guimaras, where the company said it has cleaned up 214 kilometers of shoreline of 1,588 tonnes of debris.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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