EARTH Thailand

Oil spill threatens Rayong beaches

Bangkok Post 27 July 2013

Helicopters and ships battle to contain 2.5km long slick off Map Ta Phut

Emergency response authorities were struggling early Sunday to contain about 50,000 litres of crude oil that spilled into the sea off the eastern province of Rayong, threatening a major tourist beach.

The oil leaked from PTT Global Chemical Plc's pipeline at 6.50am Saturday, PTTGC said. A company spokesman said it was possible some of the oil could reach Mae Ramphung Beach, a popular tourist site in Muang Rayong district.

The leak location is about 20 kilometres southeast of the Map Ta Phut industrial estate.

Boats spraying dispersant sail directly into the 50,000-litre drifting oil spill, as experts battle to clean up the ocean before the oil slick hits the Rayong beaches. (Photo courtesy of Royal Thai Navy)

Ecological Alert and Recovery Thailand director Penchome Sae-Tang voiced her concern over the incident, saying the spill could have a serious impact on the marine environment if it is not cleaned up fast enough.

She said the company must be responsible for the clean-up operation.

Marine Department director-general Sorasak Saensombat said Saturday more than 10 ships had been sent to clean up the oil slick, which was about 800m wide and 2.5km long.

He said about 30-40% of the slick had been removed during the clean-up operations last night.

He said most of the slick should be cleaned up in the next few days and it will take no more than a week to remove all of it.

"The company must be responsible for paying for all the clean-up costs involved," Mr Sorasak said.

"The company must also take responsibility if the oil spill has an impact on the environment."

After the incident, authorities from various agencies - the navy, the Marine Department, the Industrial Estate Authority of Thailand, the Pollution Control Department, the Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Department - were called in to help contain the spill.

PTTGC said the leak occurred in the pipeline at a single point mooring.

A single point mooring is an offshore-anchored buoy used as a device to transfer oil from the seabed to a tanker.

It is attached to the tanker to prevent it from drifting during the transfer process.

The company said the incident occurred as an oil tanker transferred crude oil via the buoy to supply to the company's oil refinery on the shore.

Shortly after the leak, workers rushed to close the valves of the oil pipeline immediately to stop any further leaks.

A 200-metre-long boom was placed around the floating oil to prevent the slick from spreading further.

Workers also used oil skimmers to remove the oil and put it in containers on board the ship.

Four ships were deployed to spray about 35,000 litres of oil-spill dispersants to clean up the slick on the sea surface, the company said.

The company said it also asked the regional office of Oil Spill Response Limited in Singapore to send experts to advise on how to deal with the oil leak.

The company said it had sent a team of staff to follow the situation and take samples of the affected sea water for lab tests to ensure the oil spill does not affect the marine environment and the coastal fisheries.

PTTGC executive vice-president Porntep Butniphant said the company had done its best to contain the slick, but conceded it was possible that some of the oil would reach Mae Ramphung Beach.

The First Naval Area Command based in Sattahip district in Chon Buri also sent a helicopter to patrol the affected sea area and monitor the spread of the oil slick.

Marine and Coastal Resources Department director-general Noppon Srisuk said he had ordered officials to monitor the oil spill and report possible adverse impacts on the environment, marine life and coral reefs.

Phuchong Saritdeechaikul, director of the marine and coastal resources conservation office in Rayong, said the wind was now blowing towards the shore of Rayong which increased the possibility of the oil reaching beaches there.

Pollution Control Department (PCD) director-general Wichien Jungrungruang said he had been monitoring the direction of the spill.

"The company is nowu sing oil skimmers to clean up the oil spill.

"The cleanup operation seems to be going well with the plan," Mr Wichien said.