Spain to recover oil from sunken Prestige

May 04, 2004 02:00 AM

Robots will start boring holes in a sunken oil tanker in a pioneering effort to recover more than 13,000 tons of fuel oil trapped in the ship's wreckage, nearly 4 km under water, officials said.
The tanker Prestige ruptured and sank during a storm off the northwest Galicia region on November 19, 2002, spilling most of its 77,000 tons of thick fuel oil onto the beaches of northern Spain and south-western France.

Lucia Perez, spokeswoman for the government commission handling the tanker disaster, said once the holes are drilled into the hull of the tanker, the extraction will begin in June, weather permitting. Since oil is lighter than water, Perez said, the 13,700 tons of oil remaining -- mainly in the bow -- will ooze out of the wreckage and flow upward into the funnel-like bottoms of huge, specially designed aluminium cylinders above the hull.
The cylinders will then seal shut and be hoisted close to the ocean surface so the oil can be pumped onto barges. Then the cylinders will be taken back down to swallow more oil. The oil that remains in the stern will be treated with bacterial agents to help the ocean degrade it.

Spanish oil company Repsol-YPF developed the extraction technique. The project is estimated to cost EUR 99.3 mm ($ 165 mm) and expected take months. Undersea extraction of oil is not new, but working at these depths is.
French salvagers recovered oil from the tanker Erika that went down off the Atlantic coast of France in 1999, but that was in 100 metres of water. The Prestige is so far down it takes robot submersibles hours just to get there.

Source: The Australian
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