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Oil spill spreads in waters off Yeosu

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Published : 2014-02-02 20:10
Updated : 2014-02-02 20:10

Local residents and officials clean up oil spills in waters near the nation’s southwestern port city of Yeosu on Saturday. (Yonhap)

Crude oil spewed into the sea off the southern coast of South Korea on Friday, after a Singapore-registered oil tanker collided with oil pipelines, according to the Korea Coast Guard.

The spillage at a quay off Yeosu, South Jeolla Province, happened almost 20 years after some 5,000 tons of oil washed onto the coast in 1995.

A small amount of oil remaining in the pipelines leaked into the waters but none had leaked from the tanker, the maritime police said. The size of the spill and damage is unknown.

Oceans and Fisheries Minister Yoon Jin-sook visited the scene Saturday and pledged to hold a thorough investigation to prevent a recurrence.

“About 80 percent of the clean-up work is done. We’re trying to contain the spread of the oil spill as quickly as we can,” an official from the Korea Coast Guard said.

The authorities are making efforts to clean up the mess by sending 70 response vessels to the site and building oil barriers along the shore.

About 1,000 government officials and soldiers were deployed on the third day of the accident, as the oil slick was seen spreading as far as 10 kilometers from its source.

The oil spill occurred at around 9:30 a.m. when the 160,000-ton tanker got off course and collided with three pipelines connected to petrochemical facilities operated by GS Caltex Corp.

The oil slick rapidly spread south and affected the shoreline of Shindeok village, about two kilometers from where the accident occurred.

The town had already experienced one of the worst oil spills in the country that resulted in some 5,000 tons of oil contaminating its coastline. It took five months to clean up the spill and the damage was estimated at 150 billion won ($140 million), according to reports.

The village is also known for a 170-hectare joint fishing area, where hundreds of residents earn their living by harvesting shellfish and seaweed.

Some police at the scene estimated that at least 1,000 liters of oil might have spewed into the sea from the pipelines.

GS Caltex officials said the 100-meter section of the pipelines ― from the damaged points to the valve ― is capable of holding about 131,000 liters of oil.

Residents said that the actual amount of spilled oil might be greater than previously expected as it took an hour for GS Caltex to completely close the valve.

“We will do our best to minimize the damage to the residents,” GS Caltex said.

The latest incident also brings to mind the 1995 Sea Prince spill in which only 28.8 percent of the residents received compensation.

“Any issues related to compensation are the responsibility of the crude oil and insurance firms. The government will focus on reducing the damage and taking prevention measures,” Minister Yoon said.

In 2007, the country had the worst oil spill off the coast of Taean, South Chungcheong Province, when 10,500 tons spilled from a tanker that had its hull pierced in a clash.

In 2013, a small amount of oil leaked off the coast of Ulsan from a cracked pipeline run by Korea’s major refiner, SK Energy.

By Suk Gee-hyun (monicasuk@heraldcorp.com)

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