Thailand to Sue as Oil Spill Contaminates Popular Beach

BANGKOK, Thailand, February 3, 2022 (ENS) – A beach in eastern Thailand was declared a disaster-hit area on Saturday as oil leaking from an underwater pipeline in the Gulf of Thailand continued to wash up onto the coast and blacken the sand.

The leak has come from the pipeline owned by Star Petroleum Refining Public Company Limited (SPRC), local media outlets said. The Thai-based company is engaged in the construction and operation of petroleum refinery in Thailand’s Rayong Province. The company produces petroleum products in Thailand for both domestic and export markets.

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

The spill began late on January 25, and was only controlled the next day after an estimated 13,209 gallons (314 barrels) of oil leaked into the ocean 20 km (12 miles) from the coast of eastern Thailand.

The spill reached eastern Rayong Province late on Friday, January 28. The oil then spread over more than 47 square kilometers (18 square miles) of the coastal waters. The Thai government has declared the beach a disaster area.

The longest beach and one of the most popular tourist attractions on Thailand’s east coast, Mae Ram Phueng Beach is a part of Khao Laem National Park, inhabited by tigers and elephants and other endangered animals. The park holds the water source of the Kwai Noi River and other important rivers.

Now, a week later, the most recent satellite image from the Thai government’s Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency, GISTDA, shows the oil has spread to cover a 67 square km (25.87 sq mile) area of the sea.

Thai workers clean spilled oil from Mae Ram Phueng Beach on Thailand’ east coast, January 30, 2022 (Photo courtesy Zawya)

The Royal Thai Navy has been working with Star Petroleum to manage the oil spill but said that the main oil mass is still offshore and they could only clean a small amount of the sea compared to the whole spill. As many as 150 company workers with 200 navy personnel have been laboring to clean up the mess, the navy said.

“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.

“Twelve navy ships and three civilian ships along with a number of aircraft” have also been working to solve the problem, he said.

The dozen ships are spraying dispersant chemicals and to date, more than 80,000 liters have been sprayed over the affected coastline, the Royal Thai Navy said Saturday.

Still, marine scientist Thon Thamrongnawasawat said in a Facebook post that 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, he said.

Most of the oil had formed a thin film rather than a thick oil slick, Royal Thai Navy spokesman Vice Admiral Pokkrong Monthatphalin told reporters, referring to aerial photographs of the spill.

Today, the “Bangkok Post” reports that 2,660 fishermen will seek financial aid to recover from the leak.

While the Navy said the oil slicks have been cleaned up, many fishermen haven’t been able to make a living since the spill since the fish have disappeared from their usual fishing grounds off the Rayong coast.

Concerns about contaminated seafood have driven consumers away from seafood caught in Rayong, the fishermen said, even though it is safe to eat as it was caught far away from the affected areas.

The Thai Fisheries Office is tallying the total number of affected fishermen to prepare a relief action plan that will be submitted to the governor.

The Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Varawut Silpa-archa rejected claims that the government is trying to protect the company. To the contrary, he said the Pollution Control Department is now preparing to file a lawsuit against those responsible for the oil spill.

Featured image: Oil from the Star Petroleum pipeline leak washes up on Mae Ram Phueng Beach, a part of Khao Laem National Park. January 30, 2022 (Photo courtesy Zawya)

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