Thai province declares state of emergency as oil slick hits beach

BANGKOK – The governor of an eastern Thai province declared a state of emergency on Saturday after an oil slick washed up on a sandy beach, closing restaurants and shops in a setback for the tourism industry affected by the pandemic.

Some 20 to 50 tonnes of oil are estimated to have leaked into the Gulf of Thailand on Tuesday night from an underwater pipe used to load tankers at an offshore mooring point owned by Star Petroleum Refining Co.

The leak was stopped within hours, the company said, but efforts to prevent an oil slick from reaching Mae Ramphueng beach in Rayong province, southeast of Bangkok, failed and oil started spreading on the sand on Saturday morning.

Much of the slick remains at sea and there are fears it could hit Koh Samet, a popular tourist island which is just beginning to recover from the coronavirus pandemic crisis along with the rest of the country.

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Planes dropped chemicals to disperse the oil and deployed booms to trap it so it could be pulled from the surface and removed.

Rayong Governor Channa Iamsaeng on Saturday declared the stricken beach a disaster area and ordered it closed for swimmers and commercial activities.

Some 200 Navy personnel and 150 Star Petroleum personnel were helping with the cleanup with equipment to soak up and skim oil, while two backhoes dug a trench to capture incoming oil.

The seaside area is largely dependent on tourists. It has suffered economically from the pandemic which has kept visitors away, and the spill will make recovery more difficult. Fishermen and women have also been affected by the pollution.

The Thailand chapter of environmental action group Greenpeace said the spill was the second involving Star Petroleum after an incident in 1997.

He issued a statement demanding that the oil company clearly report on the accident, pay for the cleanup and publish a full report on the economic, social and environmental impacts of the spill.

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