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Sunken Philippine Oil Tanker Is Pollution Time Bomb Says Greenpeace

Local residents use rags and water to clean off some of the spilled oil that has collected at the rocks on the breakwater in Nueva Valencia town in Guimaras island after a tanker contracted by Petron, the Solar I, sank in rough seas on 1 August while carrying 500,000 gallons of oil. Photo courtesy of Tara Yap and AFP.
by Karl Wilson
Manila (AFP) Aug 18, 2006
Environmental watchdog Greenpeace said Sunday it was "shocked" by the extent of damage caused by the Philippines' worst ever oil spill and called on the government to treat the raising of the sunken tanker as a matter of urgency.

"It's really bad out there," Athena Ballesteros, climate and energy campaigner for Greenpeace International, told AFP.

"The extent of damage to such a wonderful part of the Philippines shocked us all.

"The government must treat, as a matter of urgency, the raising of the tanker before more damage is done," she said.

Some 50,000 gallons of oil has leaked from the tanker Solar 1 which sank on August 11 off Guimaras island in the central Philippines. The tanker was chartered by Petron, which is part government owned.

Resting on the seabed with some 450,000 gallons still in its hold the tanker has been described by environmentalists as a ticking time bomb.

Oil has contaminated 220 kilometers (136 miles) of coastline and destroyed 454 hectares (1,121 acres) of mangroves and 58 hectares of seaweed farms, Guimaras governor Joaquin Rahman Nava said at the weekend.

He said the spill had also destroyed the livelihoods of thousands of people dependent on fishing for a living.

Nava described the island province as a "gem" with its long stretches of white beaches, clear seawater and rich marine life.

"Over years, we have devoted a sizeable chunk of our development fund to the improvement of our coastal treasures, from projects in coastal resource management, mangrove reforestation, seaweed, pearl and shellfish industries," he told local media.

"What has taken us decades to build up has been destroyed overnight."

Greenpeace, which is conducting an environmental impact study for the coastguard, concentrated much of its research Sunday on the Taklong Marine Reserve in the south of the island, which has been badly affected by the spill.

Covering some 1,143 hectares, the park is home to a rich variety of mangroves and marine life. Two areas of mangroves were totally covered in sludge.

Greenpeace says it will take several months to draw up its report on the full environmental impact of the spill.

"The real problem still rests underwater and until that is removed the danger has not gone away," Ballesteros said.

A Manila newspaper on Sunday said the captain of the tanker was not properly trained to handle the ship.

The findings of a preliminary investigation by the Maritime Industry Authority showed he did not have "advance training on oil tanker operations," according to a report in the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Coastguard commander Harold Jarder told AFP that the slick, stretching 15 nautical miles, was slowly being carried by ocean currents into the Guimaras Strait opposite the sugar-growing island of Negros.

"At present Negros is not directly affected," he said.

On land, hundreds of villagers were trying to mop up the slick with improvised tools such as bamboo poles, rice straw, dried grass, used sacks and even clothing.

At sea and off beaches booms have been erected to contain the oil which is scooped out and taken away for disposal.

President Gloria Arroyo on Saturday said the government had sought the help of the United States, Japan and Indonesia to try and refloat the tanker which is lying in 900 meters (3,000 feet) of water.

"The government has already sounded off the alarm to foreign governments, including Indonesia, the United States and Japan, to help refloat the sunken tanker," she said in a statement.

The local coastguard and officials have expressed frustration over the time taken to address the problem.

"We simply don't have the equipment to go that deep and inspect the tanker," Jarder said.

Sweden Fears Impact Of Baltic Sea Pipeline

The Swedish government said Friday it feared that a German-Russian project to build a gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea could damage the environment and stir up long-buried toxic materials.

Russian energy giant Gazprom, the controling partner in the bilateral consortium slated to build the 1,200-kilometer (740-mile) pipeline, reacted later in the day, saying the project was ecologically sound and could actually prove beneficial in cleaning up the sea floor.

Even in seeking to reassure critics, however, a spokeswoman for the consortium quoted by Russian news agency Interfax, Irina Vasilyeva, acknowledged that the proposed route of the gas pipeline had been altered due to the presence of chemical weapons and buried munitions.

"Both the environment minister and the prime minister have expressed concerns about the environmental consequences," Lena Berglund, a spokeswoman for Swedish Environment Minister Lena Sommestad, told AFP.

Construction of the natural pipeline -- which would link Saint Petersburg to Greifswald, Germany -- could "disturb the Baltic seabed (and) dislodge toxic materials and other things on the bottom which the Baltic could not cope with since it is a particularly sensitive sea," she said.

The impact on bird and marine life in the Baltic Sea is also a concern, she added.

Prime Minister Goeran Persson was quoted Thursday by the Swedish news agency TT as saying: "There is every reason to warn against the pipeline stretch that the construction consortium has proposed."

"When you build a gas pipeline this big on the bottom of the Baltic Sea, you're going to dislodge a lot of the sediment on the seabed, where there are mines, toxins and other stuff ... in addition to all the other environmental problems the Baltic Sea already has," he said.

Gazprom responded by saying the Swedish prime minister's worries were unjustified.

"The construction of the north European gas pipeline would not only be safe for the ecology of the Baltic Sea, but would even have an positive impact," the group's spokesman, Serguei Kuprianov, told the Echo radio station in Moscow.

For the first time since World War II, he said, "we will conduct a thorough study of a sizeable portion of the seabed and will clean it, in order to lay down the pipeline."

The spokeswoman for the consortium, in which Gazprom holds a 51 percent share, added that the route had been "corrected" to avoid "certain ecologically sensitive zones, sites where chemical weapons and munitions are buried, military zones, or important maritime routes." A Russian representative of environmental organization Greenpeace on Friday expressed concerns about ecological impact.

"There is currently on the bottom of the Baltic Sea a large quantity of chemical arms that were buried during the Second World War, and we are far from knowing where all of them are," Ivan Blokov told Echo radio.

"Some weapons are inside wrecks, but others were simply dumped in the sea and could pose a serious problem when the pipeline is put in place," he said.

According to the Swedish environment ministry, the construction consortium -- in which German companies BASF and E.ON each hold a 24.5 percent share -- is expected to submit a request to build the pipeline accompanied by an assessment of the potential environmental impact.

"Once we receive this request ... the government will look very closely at the assessment of the environmental risks," Berglund said.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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Beirut (AFP) Aug 19, 2006
Clean-up crews have recovered about 100 tonnes of oil along the coast of a historic Lebanese port city after a massive spill caused by Israel's bombing of a power plant, the European Union said Saturday. The clean up by European and Lebanese teams in Jbeil, north of the capital Beirut, represents just a fraction of the 10,000 to 15,000 tonnes (11,000-16,500 tons) of fuel estimated to have leaked from the Jiyeh plant.

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