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S. Korea tries to contain oil spill

December 08, 2007|From Times Wire Services

SEOUL — Workers using oil skimmers and containment fences battled today to clean up the worst oil spill in South Korean history, as part of the slick reached shore near a nature preserve on the west coast.

A Hong Kong-registered tanker, Hebei Spirit, began leaking an estimated 66,000 barrels of crude oil Friday after a barge carrying a crane slammed into it while the tanker was anchored off Daesan, about 70 miles southwest of Seoul.

"A part of the slick reached the shores of Taean and onto the beaches. There are about 1,200 residents helping in the cleanup," said Cheon Myeong-cheol, a Taean coast guard official. The Taean region is popular for its beaches and a national maritime park. It is also an important rest stop for migratory birds.

The largest slick, about 8 miles long, was a day or two away from hitting an area that has marine farms and oyster beds, said Song Myeong-dal at the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries. "We are taking all measures to prevent that from happening."

The size of the leak reported by the authorities would be about one-fourth that of the 260,000 barrels, or 11 million gallons, of oil spilled into Alaska's Prince William Sound by the Exxon Valdez in 1989.

South Korea has dispatched 23 naval vessels, 34 oil skimmers, six helicopters and 67 patrol ships to help contain the slick, Song said.

The Hebei Spirit and the other vessel, owned by South Korea's Samsung Corp., were in no danger of sinking, the coast guard said. There were no casualties in the accident, it said.

The tanker was at anchor and carrying about 260,000 tons of crude oil -- about 1.8 million barrels -- to be loaded into boats from a nearby port when it was hit by the barge, which was being towed by a small tugboat, said Kim Tae-ho, another goast guard official.

The barge, which was moving from a construction site, went out of control after a wire linking it to the tugboat was cut, he said.

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