MADRID, Spain - Robots will begin boring holes into a sunken tanker in an attempt to recover millions of gallons of petroleum some 2 1/2 miles beneath the ocean, Spanish officials said Monday.
The extraction from the tanker Prestige will begin in June, once holes are
drilled into the ship's hull, said Lucia Perez, spokeswoman for a government commission formed after the November 2002
disaster off Spain's northwest coast. The wreck is believed to hold 3.5 million gallons of oil.
The idea is that the oil, which is lighter than water, will ooze out of the wreckage and flow upward into the funnel-like bottoms of huge, specially designed aluminum cylinders.
The cylinders will seal shut and be hoisted near the surface of the Atlantic so the oil can be pumped onto barges. Then the cylinders will be taken back down to swallow more oil.
The Prestige ruptured in a storm off the Galicia region on November 19, 2002 disgorging most of its 20 million gallons of thick, toxic fuel oil onto the beaches of northern Spain and southwestern France.
The government says nearly 4 million gallons of oil remain inside the two pieces of the ship, almost all of it in the bow. The bit that remains in the stern will be treated with bacterial agents that are supposed to help the ocean degrade it.
The extraction technique was developed by the Spanish oil company Repsol-YPF. The project is expected to take months and cost $122 million.
Undersea extraction of oil is not new, but working at this depth is.
French salvagers did it when the tanker Erika went down off the Atlantic coast of France in 1999, but that was in 330 feet of water. The Prestige is so far down it takes robot submersibles hours just to get there.
03 May 2004