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South Korea declares state of disaster in oil-spill coastline

Sunday, December 9th 2007 - 20:00 UTC
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Local residents  trying to remove dense crude oil at the  beach Local residents trying to remove dense crude oil at the beach

The South Korean government has declared a “state of disaster” along a stretch of coastline affected by the country's worst ever oil spill. A fleet of 100 ships are fighting to contain the (66.000 barrels) 10-000 ton spill, but emergency workers have been unable to prevent the oil washing ashore.

Earlier in the day rescue workers on board the "Hebei Spirit", the tanker which hit a barge and was holed causing the spill was finally sealed. According to South Korea's Ministry of Maritime Affairs, the Hong Kong-registered vessel had been at anchor when it was hit by the industrial barge, which had broken free from its towing lines. Local residents reported seeing the oil slick as it approached the shoreline. The 17km slick threatens wildlife and valuable sea farms. About 7,500 people including Coast Guard, police and military personnel, as well as civil servants and volunteers, were scooping up oil that began washing ashore at Mallipo beach. Still more worked aboard 105 ships along South Korea's western coast trying to clean the water. Mallipo is about 150 kilometers southwest of Seoul. "We are working hard and making progress in the cleanup operation," said Kim Woon-tae, a regional Coast Guard official. However the Coast Guard said it was unclear how long the cleanup operation would last. Kim Sun-seon, who works for an ocean cleanup business in Busan, on South Korea's southeast coast, wore rubber gloves - and a mask to help cope with the strong smell of crude. At sea, Coast Guard personnel used a special oil fence to try keeping more crude from coming ashore. Mats to absorb oil were placed on the beach. Mallipo, one of South Korea's most scenic beaches, is an important stopover for migrating birds such as snipe, mallards and great crested grebes, and has an abundant fishing industry. The affected area includes 181 aquatic farms producing abalone, seaweed, littleneck clams and sea cucumbers, said Lee Seung-yop, an official with the government of Taean County, where the beach is located. The area has about 4,000 aquatic farmers, he added. "A lot of damage is feared to these farms, although we don't have an estimate yet," Lee said. About 63,800 people live in Taean. Fishing, fish farming and tourism are the major industries. More than 20.6 million tourists visited the area last year, and at least 18 million had arrived as of the end of September this year, according to county statistics. In Seoul, Prime Minister Han Duck-soo presided over a meeting with related ministries on the oil spill, said Song Ki-jin, an official at the prime minister's office. No details were given. The accident occurred about 11 kilometers off Mallipo beach. The area also includes a national maritime park, where oil from the spill also washed ashore.

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