The (at least) 50,000 tonnes of crude oil that leaked from a pipeline in southeastern Thailand have caused havoc on the beaches of nearby island Koh Samet to an extent that the formerly romantic holiday spot has now been declared a “disaster zone” by authorities.
The oil spilled into the Gulf of Thailand off Rayong province on July 27 in the morning from a leak in a pipeline operated by PTT Global Chemical, a subsidiary of state-owned oil and gas company PTT Plc. It moved to the north of the holiday island of Koh Samet and covered the popular beach of Ao Phrao (“Coconut Bay”) and later other beaches.
“The north of the island is devastated,” one tourist said on Twitter.
According to officials, the oil spill has “an extreme impact on tourism” as tourists were leaving the island in hundreds. Also, the oil is moving further and could spread to the coast of the mainland and affect the fishing and aquaculture industry in the region.
“About 30 per cent of the tourists have left the island”, Chairat Trirattanajarasporn, president of the Rayong Tourist Association, said according to news agency AFP.
“There are no tourists coming in any more, only people leaving. Some groups cancelled bookings. Some are scared and started to leave,” Chairat added.
He said said the local tourism industry had lost about one-fifth of its annual revenue of $52 million, while a group of fishermen said they were losing $175,000 in daily revenue.
PTT Global Chemical apologised and said the leak had been plugged. The clean-up operation would take another “two to three days,” it said. However, environmentalists believe that the clean-up has a long way to go and accused the company of not being prepared to deal with such an incident and downplaying the issue.
“There is a lot of oil still there,” a Greenpeace member said. “It’s very disappointing that this global company has no emergency plan to deal with the crisis.”
The company admitted that is is only covered by a $48 million insurance policy.
Impacts on the marine life in the coastal ecology are feared to be quite big, and the area will take 6 months to one year until it fully recovers.
Deputy Prime Minister Plodprasop Suraswadi admitted on July 30 that Thailand was “ill-equipped” to handle the Rayong oil spill. He also said the government must set up a committee to handle the catastrophe and might be forced to ask a task force from Singapore for help.
Many people voiced their anger about the absence of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra during a national crisis. She is currently on state visits to Africa and has instructed concerned agencies “to seek assistance” by phone from Mozambique and demanded PTT Global Chemcial to pay “in full” for the incident.
Meanwhile, the Thai Marine department has filed a case against PTT Global Chemical.