Pipeline leak blackens Thai beach island

Emergency crews work to contain 50,000 litre spill and prevent it from reaching Thai coastline

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 30 July, 2013, 3:33am

Waves of crude oil have washed up on a popular tourist island in Thailand after a leak from a pipeline, amid frantic efforts to stop it reaching the eastern coastline.

About 50,000 litres of oil spilled into the sea off Rayong province on Saturday from a pipeline operated by PTT Global Chemical , a subsidiary of state-owned oil and gas company PTT.

Despite containment efforts by PTT and the Thai navy, oil reached the resort island of Koh Samet on Sunday night and an estimated 5,000 litres of oil is still threatening the Thai coast.

The island is one of the most popular beach destinations for Thai and foreign tourists in the Gulf of Thailand

"Some of the petroleum is moving towards the mainland," said Rayong vice-governor Supeepat Chongpanish, who is involved in overseeing the clean-up efforts. "We have helicopters surveying the situation from the air."

Supeepat said a team of 600 to 700 people were involved in the clean-up efforts and experts from Singapore had been flown in to help tackle the spill.

He estimated that 70 per cent of the spill had been contained, but the situation was still not entirely under control.

So far it seems the oil has only affected Ao Prao beach on the western coast of Koh Samet. The small island in Rayong province is around 200 kilometres southeast of the capital.

Tiwu York, who was visiting from Bangkok with his family over the weekend, swam in the sea only two hours before the oil came ashore on Sunday. When he returned, the beach was black.

"The gasoline stench was heavy," he said. "We planned on leaving on Monday, but left earlier because of the oil."

As he left the island , oil was still washing ashore and hundreds of workers in white jumpsuits laboured to scrape the sand clean and remove oil from the water.

"It looks like a sea of oil," said Supeepat, who travelled to the island yesterday. "But at least now it's better than this morning. PTT said the clean-up would take 15 days, but I don't believe it."

Supeepat estimated the clean-up could take up to a month.

A sales representative with Koh Samet Resorts confirmed that its beach hotel, Ao Prao Resort, had been closed for seven days and that tourists there had been moved to another resort on the opposite side of the island while clean-up work continued.

The nearby area has been declared a disaster zone by provincial authorities, and those affected by the spill will receive immediate assistance.

PTT said it detected a leak when crude oil from a tanker moored offshore was being transferred to the pipeline, 20 kilometres from a refinery in Map Ta Phut.

Additional reporting by Associated Press