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Thai beach declared disaster area after oil spill, COVID-hit businesses impacted

Published: Updated:

A beach in eastern Thailand was declared a disaster area on Saturday as oil leaking from an underwater pipeline in the Gulf of Thailand continued to wash ashore and blacken the sand.

The leak from the pipeline owned by Star Petroleum Refining Public Company Limited (SPRC) started late on Tuesday and was brought under control a day later after spilling an estimated 50,000 liters of oil into the ocean 20 kilometers from the country's industrialized eastern seaboard.

Some of the oil reached the shoreline at Mae Ramphueng beach in Rayong province late on Friday after spreading over 47 square kilometers of sea in the gulf.

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, January 29, 2022. (Reuters)
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, January 29, 2022. (Reuters)

The navy is working with SPRC to contain the leak and said the main oil mass was still offshore with only a small amount washing up on at least two spots along the 12-kilometer-long beach.

About 150 SPRC workers and 200 navy personnel had been deployed to clean up the beach and oil boom barriers had been set up, the navy said.

Twelve navy ships and three civilian ships along with a number of aircraft were also working to contain the spill at sea with booms and dispersant spray.

"We and the company are still working at sea to reduce the amount of oil by cornering the spill and sucking up the oil and spraying dispersant," Rear Admiral Artorn Charapinyo, deputy commander of the first Naval Area command, told reporters.

Community impact

Oil washing up on a beach on Thailand’s east coast could be the “nail in the coffin” for pandemic-hit hotels and restaurants, local hospitality businesses said Saturday.

Crews in yellow plastic protective suits were seen at Mae Ram Phueng Beach - about two and a half hours from Bangkok - on Saturday afternoon cleaning up the oil slick which began washing up late the previous night.

An aerial surveillance aircraft is monitoring the slick on the sea, and local media reported that satellite imagery on Friday showed a pollution zone of 47 square kilometers.

An aerial view shows oil spill which leaked from an undersea pipeline that belongs to Star Petroleum Refining Public Company Limited, in the Gulf of Thailand, Near Rayong province, Thailand, January 26, 2022. (Reuters)
An aerial view shows oil spill which leaked from an undersea pipeline that belongs to Star Petroleum Refining Public Company Limited, in the Gulf of Thailand, Near Rayong province, Thailand, January 26, 2022. (Reuters)

Marine scientist Thon Thamrongnawasawat said the oil slick is expected to continue to wash up on shore over the coming days due to stronger wind.

People should “definitely avoid” swimming in affected areas, Thon said in a Facebook post.

For struggling resorts and tourism-dependent businesses at Mae Ram Phueng Beach and the surrounding area, the pollution and lack of swimmers could spell disaster for livelihoods.

“There have been fewer customers because of Covid-19 and the lethargic economy and now the oil spill is like a nail in the coffin,” said Korn Thongpiijit, 45, who manages Barnsabhaisabai Resort which is situated right where authorities have set up a clean-up operation.

“We already reduced accommodation prices by 50 percent because of COVID-19 for survival.”

Bhorn, the owner of a nearby seafood restaurant said most of her wild-caught produce came from local fishermen and already customers were phoning up worried about the situation.

“Our income has dwindled by more than 50 per cent since COVID-19 started,” she told AFP, adding she is waiting to assess the impact.

A dozen ships are spraying dispersant chemicals and so far more than 80,000 liters has been doused over the affected area, the Royal Thai Navy said Saturday.

A helicopter flies overhead as workers clean up crude oil on Mae Ram Phueng beach following a spill caused by a leak in an undersea pipeline owned by Star Petroleum Refining Public Company Limited (SPRC) in Rayong on January 29, 2022. (Reuters)
A helicopter flies overhead as workers clean up crude oil on Mae Ram Phueng beach following a spill caused by a leak in an undersea pipeline owned by Star Petroleum Refining Public Company Limited (SPRC) in Rayong on January 29, 2022. (Reuters)

Star Petroleum said divers had found a failure in a flexible hose that formed part of the undersea equipment around a single point mooring, a floating buoy used to offload oil from tankers.

A pipeline leak in the same area in 2013 led to a major slick that coated a beach on nearby Ko Samet.

There are fears a national park Ko Samet could be affected in this spill which could take more than a month to clean up.

With AFP and Reuters

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