EARTH Thailand

Rayong Bay a ‘dead sea’ for fishermen

The Nation 27 July 2017 | PRATCH RUJIVANAROM

Four years after oil spill, situation has not returned to normal.

PEOPLE in Rayong, especially fishermen, are still suffering the consequences of a major oil spill in Rayong Bay four years ago, because fish have not returned. However, PTT Global Chemical PLC (PTTGC), which took control of the cleanup, insists that the marine ecosystem has recovered to its normal state.

Meanwhile, environmentalists have urged new laws and other measures to prevent and tackle oil spills in the future.

Weerasak Wongnarong, a fisherman from Tambon Tapong in Rayong’s Muang district, said he and his col leagues had suffered financially since the spill, which happened four years ago today.

He encouraged authorities to conduct comprehensive research into the damage and clean all spilled oil from the seafloor. “Our life has changed drastically since the oil spill. We cannot fish in Rayong’s sea any more. Instead, we have to go farther to fish, which increases our expenses,” Weerasak said.

He said the income of fishermen in his village had reduced from as much as Bt10,000 per day before the oil spill to less than Bt3,000. They now had to fish as far as across the Gulf of Thailand in Prachuap Khiri Khan and many people were seeking other careers, because fishing could not support them anymore.

The accident happened on July 27, 2013, when a Greek tanker pumping crude oil to the PTTGC refinery at Map Taphut Industrial Estate leaked about 50,000 litres of oil into Rayong Bay. Soon after, an oil slick floated ashore at the famous tourist destination of Koh Samet.

Pictures of white sandy beaches turned black and dead marine animals soaked with oil brought home one of the country’s worst environmental disasters.

Nevertheless, PTTGC stated that it had cleaned up the oil spill within seven days and restored the marine environment to its normal state within three months.

However, Weerasak said the sea was still damaged. He claimed that up to 80 per cent of the spilled oil was still submerged on the seafloor, making it too toxic for marine life.

“Instead of scooping out the floating oil patch on the sea surface, the company chose to use chemicals to sink the oil down to the seafloor,” he said. “So, it appeared that they had successfully cleaned up the sea within a short period, but this method polluted the sea severely.

“There is still no survey on how much oil is left on the seafloor, but every monsoon season, waves usually wash tar balls onto the beach.

“Therefore, we urge the authorities to conduct a survey of the seafloor to understand the real situation, and get rid of all the leftover oil to recover the marine ecosystem.” However, PTTGC senior vice president for corporate affairs Warawan Tippawanich stated that the company had been working closely with local people to mitigate the consequences of the oil spill. 

She said it also had up-to-date measures to prevent and tackle oil spills in the future.

“From the environment monitoring by the Pollution Control Department [PCD], it was concluded that the situation has already come back to normal. So the PCD made a conclusion to stop monitoring the impacts of the oil spill since October last year,” Warawan said. “But we still continue many projects to help and support the livelihoods of the local people.”

She said PTTGC had initiated 40 projects to restore tourism, 31 projects to promote education and career options for local people, and 13 projects to improve the environment, working alongside authorities and academic institutions.

“We have a close relationship with the local people, as our stance is that we are also a part of Rayong community,” she said. “We are always open to public opinion and we are working closely with local authorities and fishermen to restore the abundance of Rayong’s sea.”

Meanwhile, Ecological Alert and Recovery Thailand (Earth) Foundation director Penchom Saetang said that despite increasing awareness of the 2013 spill, there were still many minor oil spills in the sea near Rayong, which signified insufficient efforts to prevent them.

“We have learned that in the past two years, there were 11 reports of oil spills in Thai waters,” Penchom said, adding that people affected by the 2013 spill “did not get proper compensation and have had to fight in the courts to sue for the recovery of the sea”.

She said: “We expect that there will be a greater chance of oil spills in Thai waters, as there is more petroleum drilling and oil transporting in our waters due to the growth of Eastern Economic Corridor. We need oil-spill prevention policies and a monitoring system that meets international standards.”

Penchom said PTTGC should conduct a full and transparent investigation of the incident to solve existing problems and learn how to prevent a similar disaster in the future. She also called on the government to draft a strict new law to directly address issues relating to oil spills.