CEBU CITY, Philippines — Siphoning operations on the sunken MV St. Thomas Aquinas was cancelled on Sunday due to big waves brought about by the southwest monsoon.
Noel Kimmayong of the Malayan Towage and Nippon Salvage Co. said they had to pull out the barge from the waters off Lawis Ledge due to the waves.
The salvage firm was commissioned by 2GO, owner of Thomas Aquinas, to remove the oil from the sunken ship to stop the oil slick that had affected Cordova town and a portion of Lapu-Lapu City on Mactan Island.
But Kimmayong told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that they were 90 percent complete with their siphoning operations after removing 4,000 liters of bunker fuel and 140 liters of lube oil from the sunken vessel.
He said he estimated that they only had two to three more days to go in their operations before the oil would completely be removed.
Kimmayong said their operations affected the entry and exit of vessels passing through the Lawis Ledge to get to or leave the Cebu ports.
These vessels were advised to lower their speed limit so as not to affect the siphoning operations.
He explained that if a vessel went beyond the required speed limit, it might create big waves that would affect their operations.
At least 50,000 liters of oil leaked out of Thomas Aquinas, affecting 328 hectares of mangroves in Cordova town and parts of Lapu-Lapu City.
The oil slick displaced at least 5,000 fishermen in Cordova town who had to stop fishing since their catch was covered with oil.
Thomas Aquinas was entering the port of Cebu when it collided with Sulpicio Express Siete of Philippine Span Asia Carrier Corp. (formerly Sulpicio Lines) in the waters off Talisay City on Aug. 16.
At least 115 passengers were killed and 21 remain missing to date. The passenger vessel contained 20,000 liters of diesel, 120,000 liters of bunker fuel and 20,000 liters of lube oil when it sank.
Asked what would happen upon the completion of the siphoning operations, Kimmayong said they would have to wait for the owner to tell them what to do since their contract only covered siphoning operations.
He said it would be up to 2GO to decide if the sunken vessel would be salvaged or not.
“That is not our responsibility. But we are always ready to undertake it if we are asked to do so,” he said.
Environment officials earlier recommended that the sunken ship be salvaged since it was near two coral reefs, which would be affected if the ship moved.