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Asia Dive News : Thai Gulf oil clean up raises new environmental concerns

Marine scientists say out of sight, out of mind doesn't work with ecology. Marine scientists warned of long term damage to coral reefs and marine life after Thai Oil and state agencies dumped huge amounts of chemicals into the sea to disperse a crude oil spill off Sri Racha.

Thorn Damrongnawasawadi, of Kasetsart University, said the oil would eventually sink to the bottom of the ocean, covering coral and marine animals, and that could lead to another disaster.

“To disperse the oil doesn't mean it's been removed from the sea. The oil is still there and there is no way to get rid of it. Once it has dropped to the seabed, there is no way to completely prevent an environmental impact,” he said.

About 30,000 litres of crude oil belonging to Thai Oil Plc leaked into the sea off Chon Buri as the Japan-registered oil tanker “Ryaho Maru” unloaded on Sunday 20th of last month. Representatives from four state agencies; the Royal Navy, the Pollution Control Department, the Marine Department, and the Port Authority of Thailand together with experts from Thai Oil yesterday joined hands in a bid to control the situation.

Thai Oil Plc managing director Piti Yimprasert said some of the spilled oil had been transferred to the company's refinery and the rest had been dispersed with a chemical agent. He said the chemical used to disperse the spill would not harm marine resources because it would decompose.

Chukiert Chumsangkeaw, a resort operator on Khang Kao Island, not far from Pattaya beach, said he called authorities when he saw a huge amount of oil heading straight for the island. The oil was dispersed before reaching the island's shores.

After flying low over the area, Pollution Control Department (PCD) director-general Apichai Chawachareonphan said investigations about the spill's environmental impact would begin soon.

He said if anything adverse was detected, Thai Oil would face legal action for violation of the 1992 Environmental Protection Act.

Marine Department Director-General Thawalyarat Onsira said he had told police about the spill and his department would investigate possible causes of the accident.

Thawalyarat said if human error caused the spill, the company would face both criminal and civil suits, as its actions might constitute a breach of the Marine Transportation Act. “The company claimed the accident occurred during discharge, as a result of strong winds and ocean currents. But if there were strong winds at the time, why did the company unload the oil?” he asked.

Thai Oil Plc yesterday submitted a statement to the president of the Stock Exchange of Thailand and secretary-general of the Securities and Exchange Commission to explain what had happened.

In the statement, the company said the situation was “now under control”.

Source: The Nation