Oil spill reaches shoreline in South Korea
Oil from a damaged supertanker has reached an ecologically sensitive shoreline on South Korea's western coast, a Coast Guard official said Saturday.
About four miles of coastline near Mallipo beach, approximately 95 miles southwest of Seoul, has been affected, said Jung Se-hi, a spokesman at the Coast Guard headquarters in Incheon. The region is popular for its scenic beaches and is also the site of fish farms, a national maritime park and an important rest stop for migrating birds.
Some 2.7 million gallons of oil gushed Friday from a 146,000-ton Hong Kong-registered supertanker after a barge carrying a crane slammed into it about seven miles off Mallipo beach. The spill was the country's largest, involving twice as much oil as a spill in 1995.
South Korea's Coast Guard dispatched dozens of ships Friday to try to contain the spill and keep it from reaching the sensitive shoreline. But strong winds and prevailing currents spread the oil slick to an area about 1 mile wide and 10 miles long, Jung said.
The Coast Guard plans to mobilize 103 vessels and six helicopters Saturday in an effort to clean it up, Jung said, adding that the operation was expected to take at least three days.
Chang Geun-ho, an official of the Maritime and Fisheries Ministry, said Friday that the extent of environmental damage would depend on the success of the containment operation, though he added that cold winter temperatures could help slow the spread of the oil slick by freezing it.
The size of the leak reported by the authorities would be about one-fourth of the 11 million gallons of oil spilled into Alaska's Prince William Sound by the Exxon Valdez in 1989.
A spill in South Korea in 1995, previously considered the country's largest, leaked about 1.4 million gallons of crude and fuel oil.
The tanker, the Hebei Spirit, and the other vessel, owned by South Korea's Samsung Corp., were in no danger of sinking and there were no casualties, the Coast Guard said.
The tanker was at anchor and carrying about 260,000 tons of crude oil - about 1.8 million barrels - to be loaded into boats from a nearby port when it was hit by the South Korean barge which was being towed by a small tug boat, Kim said.
The barge, which was moving from a construction site, lost control after a wire linking it to the tug boat was cut due to high winds, waves and currents, he said.
Kim said the Coast Guard planned to question the barge's captain to find why he was sailing through the area in stormy weather. ( AP )