Concerns Mount As Oil Slick Moves To Koh Samet

Oil spills in eastern coast of Thailand
A worker cleans oil spills caused by a leak from an undersea pipeline 20 km (12.4 miles) off Thailand's eastern coast at Mae Ramphueng beach in Rayong province, Thailand.

Authorities are concerned about the massive oil leak from an underwater pipeline in the Gulf of Thailand, which is now bearing down on Prao Bay in Koh Samet.

The leak from the pipeline owned by Star Petroleum Refining Plc, which was first detected last Tuesday, polluted Mae Ramphueng Beach on mainland Rayong.

As of yesterday, no more new slicks were seen drifting towards the beach. However, Rayong governor Charnna Ieamsang said authorities are having trouble controlling another oil slick from the pipeline which is threatening the resort island of Koh Samet.

Authorities sprayed dispersants on the oil’s surface, hoping it would break it down into smaller droplets which would then sink.

However, the move caused the leak to separate into smaller slicks which move much faster on the water’s surface, complicating the clean-up effort, Mr Ieamsang said.

He said more than 100 soldiers from the Royal Thai Marine Corps were sent yesterday to clear the sludge along Mae Ramphueng Beach, which has been declared a disaster area pending more clean-up operations.

Even as that clean-up proceeds, concerns are growing about another slick from the leaking pipeline which has yet to be brought under control and which threatens a well-known tourist spot.

Ten ships have been sent to stop the slick from reaching the shores of Koh Samet, he said.

Atthapol Charoenshunsa, director-general of the Pollution Control Department, said a satellite image taken yesterday by the Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency showed the spill, measuring 51 square kilometres, slowly closing in on Prao Bay even as authorities race to contain it.

The department is working with agencies including the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources and the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation, to protect Koh Samet, home to coral reefs and seagrass patches, against the slick, Mr Charoenshunsa said.

Speaking after an inspection at Mae Ramphueng Beach, Suwannachai Wattanayingcharoenchai, director-general of the Department of Health, said the sludge had contaminated areas occupied by 15 local businesses and three fish markets. No estimate of damage was available.

In light of this, the department has issued guidelines for monitoring the health of officials involved in the clean-up and support operations, he said.