Oil spill: Tourism Authority of Thailand orders visitors to stay off beaches

Tourists on Thailand's eastern beaches were greeted today with black waves of crude oil washed up on a beach at.

Oil spill: Tourism Authority of Thailand orders visitors to stay off beaches

Tourists on Thailand’s eastern beaches were greeted today with black waves of crude oil washed up on a beach at.

“We closed off Prao Bay on Samet to tourists so authorities can clean up the water and beach,” said Chuchart Oncharoen, Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) director for Rayong province.

Samet Island, about 3 kilometers off the coast of Rayong and 150kilometres south-east of Bangkok, is a popular getaway for Thais and foreigners living in the capital. The island attracts about 1 million visitors a year, mostly on weekends.

“Prao Bay is on the west coast of Samet, but most of the island’s hotels and resorts are on the east coast, which has not been affected by the spill,” Chuchart said.

The leak sprung Saturday in an offshore pipeline belonging to PTT Global Chemical Public Limited Company, releasing about 50,000 liters of oil into the gulf, about 20 kilometers off the coast of mainland Rayong province.

The company, with the assistance of the Thai navy, had contained much of the oil spill by Saturday evening, although portions evaded the booms.

Greenpeace South-East Asia said the spill highlighted the need for the government to end oil drilling and exploration in the gulf, a major source of revenue from fisheries and tourism.

“The Gulf of Thailand, the nation’s food basket, has long been under threat from oil spills along oil transport routes,” said Ply Pirom, the group’s Thailand program manager.

“Drilling that puts livelihoods and our natural heritage at risk is unwarranted when measures to shift to clean, sustainable energy already exist,” he added.

Greenpeace called on PTT Global Chemical, a subsidiary of the PTT PLC which is 67 per cent government owned, to clean up the spill and do a follow-up study on its environmental impact on marine life

Tourists on Samet island were warned to stay away from the beach marred by inky globs as hundreds of workers in white jumpsuits labored to scrape the sand clean and remove the oil from the water.

About 50 tons of oil spilled into the sea off Rayong province Saturday morning after a leak sprung in a pipeline operated by PTT Global Chemical Plc., a subsidiary of state-owned oil and gas company PTT Plc.

Streaks of crude oil about 300 meters (984 feet) wide have marred the shore of Prao Bay on Samet Island, one of the most popular beach destinations among Thai and foreign tourists in the Gulf of Thailand, Rayong’s deputy provincial governor Supeepat Chongpanish said on Monday.

He said authorities have closed down the bay as 300 workers are working to remove the oil from the white beach and from the waters.

“The top priorities right now are to get rid of the oil on the sand and the seawaters, and to make sure the spill doesn’t spread to other shores,” Supeepat said. “This is a very beautiful, white, sandy beach, so we want to make the spill go away as soon as possible.”

Known for its quieter scene and serene beach, Prao Bay is blackened by waves of oil slicks that lashed at the shore.

“The black waves started rolling in since last night and by the morning the beach was all tainted with oil,” Kevin Wikul, the assistant front desk officer of a resort in Prao Bay, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. “We have advised our guests against going near the beach and some of them have asked for early check-outs.”

The nearby area has been declared a disaster zone by provincial authorities, and those affected by the spill will receive immediate assistance.

The company said it detected the leak when the crude oil from a tanker moored offshore was being transferred to the pipeline, 20 kilometers (11 miles) away from delivery at the refinery in Map Ta Phut, one of the largest industrial estates in Southeast Asia.

The company said in a statement Sunday that it had flown in an oil spill management experts and a plane from Singapore to get rid of the crude oil. The Thai Navy vessels also joined the cleanup efforts.

Authorities said it would take some time to assess the environmental damage the spill has caused.

“The spill is definitely having an impact on the environment, but we have not detected any deaths of marine animals yet at this point,” said Rayong provincial governor Wichit Chatphaisit. “PTT will have to take responsibility about the damage this has caused.”

He said the pollution control department officials had also expressed concern about the effect from the chemical used to clean up the spill.

The refinery on the shore was not affected by the leak.

In 2009, another PTT subsidiary was involved in the Montara oil spill, one of the Australia’s worst oil disasters, in the Timor Sea off Western Australia.

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