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Massive oil spill hits near Busan

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Published : 2014-02-16 20:03
Updated : 2014-02-17 16:26

A vessel sails in the waters off Busan hit by an oil spill Sunday. (Yonhap)
Concerns escalated over environmental damage following another large oil spill off Korea’s southeastern coast after an 88,000-ton bulk carrier collided with an oil tanker on Saturday.

Officials said Sunday that at least 237 kiloliters of oil was found to have leaked into the water near Busan from a hole, about 20 centimeters by 30 centimeters, in the hull of the Liberian-registered freighter Captain Vangelis L. caused by the accident. The amount of oil that spilled was over 70 kiloliters more than during the Yeosu accident last month.

“High waves are suspected to be the main cause of the accident. The sea was swelling with a wind speed of around 8 to 10 meters per second,” Busan Coast Guard chief Bae Jin-hwan said.

The bulk carrier, en route from Qinhuangdao, China, was attempting to receive bunker-C oil from the 460-ton oil tanker in the waiting area, Bae added. Each ship was carrying some 1,500 kiloliters of oil.

An oil slick hundreds of meters wide was found 4 kilometers south of the accident site. No oil has been found near the seashore yet, and no cases of contamination damage have been reported, the authorities said Sunday afternoon. However, concerns are rising over possible contamination of fish farms 6 kilometers from the site of the spill.

The maritime police immediately dispatched dozens of vessels and four helicopters and installed a 500-meter oil fence around the site to contain the oil spill. The police said they succeeded in sealing off the hole in the vessel three hours after the collision.

The maritime police said they would launch a probe into the case to determine the exact cause of the accident as soon as the clean-up work is finished. It is expected to take over three days to fully clean up the site, the police said. Seventeen crew members were on board the bulk carrier, but no causalities were reported.

The Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries said Saturday it has launched a special task force team to better manage and monitor the containment efforts for the two recent oil spills.

Late last month, more than 160 tons of oil leaked off the shores of Yeosu, South Jeolla Province, after a 160,000-ton oil tanker collided with a pier bridge due to a captain’s alleged negligence. Three pipelines connecting to petrochemical companies in the Yeosu Industrial Complex were damaged, leading to the spill.

While the investigation into the exact cause is still underway, the police are also looking into whether the concerned company, GS Caltex, intentionally downplayed the magnitude of the oil spill.

The company was criticized after over 200 times more oil than it had initially reported was found to have leaked into the sea.

By Lee Hyun-jeong (rene@heraldcorp.com)

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