Seven months after the sinking of Solar 1, the oil recovery ship Allied Shield arrived on March 11 in Bacolod City to begin the retrieval of any remaining oil on the sunken vessel. The Allied Shield will be used by Sonsub, an Italian firm specializing in deepwater operations. Sonsub was contracted by the Protection and Indemnity (P&I) Club, insurer of the Solar 1.

This is only the second time in history that such a deep sea oil retrieval operation will be undertaken. Sonsub successfully retrieved 13,500 tons of crude oil without spillage from the tanker Prestige which sank in 10,000 feet of water 240 kilometers from the coast of Spain. Solar 1, meanwhile, is at a depth of 2,100 feet and was carrying about 2,000 tons of fuel oil when it sank.  

“Today marks another milestone in our collective efforts to address the environmental impact of the sinking of Solar 1. With the arrival of Allied Shield, the final phase of the clean-up can commence,” Petron Chairman Nicasio I. Alcantara said.  “The retrieval of oil from Solar 1 will finally end all speculation whether there is still oil on the vessel and more importantly, ease the apprehensions of people from the Visayas.”

Petron spearheaded clean-up efforts in Guimaras wherein employee volunteers and local residents teamed up to clean about 140 kilometers of affected shoreline collecting 6,000 metric tons of oily debris. The company also conducted numerous relief and medical missions in affected baranggays benefiting thousands of Guimarasnons. At present, Petron has initiated livelihood programs in Guimaras.

“We made a commitment to Guimaras to do whatever it takes to restore it to normalcy and we are keeping that promise,” Alcantara added.

During the retrieval operation, thrusters along the sides of the Allied Shield will keep it in place (“Dynamic Positioning”) and allow it to stay directly above Solar 1 at all times. Use of the Global Positioning System allowsAllied Shield to continuously check its position relative to the sunken vessel.

Two Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) will be deployed to work on the sunken vessel.

“The extraction of oil from Solar 1 will be relatively easier than the Prestige which sank in much harsher environmental conditions. Additionally, everything that will be done in this oil recovery project has been already done before,” Sonsub Project Director Robin Galleti said.

“We will be operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week to hasten the recovery of any trapped oil in Solar 1. We wish to assure all concerned that we have several measures in place to ensure a fail-safe operation. In addition, we have contingency plans in place to cover the unlikely event of any oil release,” Galleti added.

Contingency plans include oil spill response tugboats that will be deployed for the duration of the retrieval operations. These boats are equipped with oil dispersants, oil skimmers for the mechanical recovery of oil and spill booms for containment. One aircraft, which has airborne dispersant capability, will continuously be monitoring the area. The Philippine Coast Guard will establish a 1 kilometer exclusive zone around the Allied Shield.

The operation is expected to last around 20 days and the cost is estimated to be USD 6 million.