The water and beaches of the country’s western coast were covered in a thick layer of oil after the spill which occurred earlier this month. The spill occurred when a crane from a Samsung barge punched some holes in the side of a Hong Kong tanker. Over 10,500 gallons of crude oil spilled from the punctured vessel.
The oil wrecked beaches throughout the western coast and even coated a wildlife sanctuary. Thousands of volunteers, government officials and soldiers have worked tirelessly to clean up the effected areas. Most of the beaches have been cleaned, however the locals have lost most of their income. The fisheries have been destroyed in the area and tourism has dropped to almost nothing. In addition, environmental groups say dirty beaches were only the tip of the iceberg. Oil that has sunk to the bottom of the sea bed will likely cause environmental problems for years.
South Korean officials say that human error was the cause of the accident. They have asked for arrest warrants for four captains involved in the spill. The four captains they are seeking to arrest are the captains of the tanker, the person in charge of the crane, and the two tugboat captains who were towing the barge. They say barge operators ignored warnings not to take the crane out in the rough seas, and a towline from the tugboat to the barge severed before the accident and meant the ship could not move in time.
One of the biggest impacts the spill had is on the local bird population. Conservation group Birds Korea said: “While great efforts have been made to clean a few oil-contaminated birds, it is apparent that the existing infrastructure is completely inadequate to deal with the large numbers of birds presently affected.” Up to several thousand birds may have been affected.
It is not yet known what punishment the four men would face if convicted. A man in a similar situation in the US, Captain Joseph Hazelwood of Exxon Valdez fame, was fined $50,000 dollars and sentenced to 1,000 hours of community service for a negligent oil discharge charge after being cleared of operating the boat while intoxicated, but times have changed since 1989 and it’s a different country. Guess we’ll just have to wait and see.