A huge clean-up operation on South Korea’s stricken southwest coast after the country’s worst oil spill is set to drag on for two months, a government minister warned Sunday.
As thousands of troops, police, coastguards and volunteers battled to clear crude oil off beaches, the crew of the 147,000-tonne Hebei Spirit finally stopped it from leaking, officials said.
They pumped the remaining oil out of the last of three containers which had been holed by a barge in a collision Friday.
But with over 10,000 tonnes of crude oil spilled into the Yellow Sea and now polluting a long stretch of coastline, most of the damage has been done.
A state of disaster has been declared in the region where beaches and farms dependent on the sea have been badly affected around Taean, 120 km southwest of Seoul.
Maritime Minister Kang Moo-Hyun said he estimated the clean-up would take “at least two months” given the size of the oil slick.
He told reporters there was serious contamination along 17 to 20 km of coastline, with the oil sludge either glued onto beaches or sinking to the seabed.
“Even if some of the fish and maritime life survive, they wouldn’t be marketable for a while,” Kang said.
“We will take whatever measures are needed to stop the oil from washing onto the seashore.”
More than 6,600 people, backed by 90 boats and six planes, fought to remove oil drifting at sea or washing onto beaches.
Booms were set up to contain the oil, and skimmers were working to collect and remove slicks from the water surface, the Taean coast guard said.
On the beaches, police, troops and volunteers carried buckets of sludge to huge rubber pools from which they scooped black, oil-mixed sand into sacks.
Of the three holed containers on the Hong Kong-registered tanker, two had been emptied by Saturday while the last oil from the third was pumped into one of the two unaffected containers overnight, coast guard officials said.
“The crew on the tanker was able to pump crude oil in the third damaged container into an undamaged one overnight,” a coast guard official said. “The tanker has stopped leaking since early Sunday,” he said.