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Thousands drafted in to contain Korea's largest oil spill

Thousands drafted in to contain Korea's largest oil spill

Seoul: Emergency teams continue to try and fend off the tides of oil rushing onto South Korea's pristine western shores following the nation's worst ever spill on Friday.

Some 90 vessels and six airplanes were dispatched to the scene of the accident and 6,650 soldiers and police have been working to contain about 10,500 tons of oil leaked into waters off Taean County, South Chungcheong province, Friday morning, said Taean Coast Guard officials.

 "The large size of the spill made the containment difficult, but there will be no significant expansion of the oil considering the tide, wind and their speeds," Lee Bong-gil, a pollution management official in the Korea Coast Guard in Seoul, said.

The oil was leaked when a 146,000-ton tanker, Hong Kong registered Hebei Spirit, collided with an 11,800-ton crane-carrying barge. The crane hit the tanker and punctured three holes in it, allowing the oil to escape. The oil spill, the largest in South Korea's history, is about twice the size of the leak of 5,035 tons in 1995, and almost half of the Exxon Valdez disaster off Alaska.

The leaked oil formed a round shape as wide as 20 km, while a 10-meter oil slick was created about 17 kilometers from the seashore. Pushed by tides and the wind, the spill has already reached some beaches and is threatening fish farms in Taean County. Some coastal areas such as Simnipo and Mohang have been turned black as the crude oil has soaked into the sand.

Local media suggest the compensation pay out from the incident could be as high as $330m. The barge broke free from its moorings and slammed into the tanker, which was stationary some 10km offshore on Friday.  [09/12/07]