PTT Global Chemical PCL pledged to clean up an oil spill that closed Koh Samet’s Ao Prao Bay within three days, but public officials warn that restoring the island’s white-sand beaches may take weeks.
About 600 PTT employees, Royal Thai Navy personnel and marine staffers scrambled to contain and mop up nearly 5,000 liters of oil that washed ashore on eight kilometers of western Koh Samet shoreline after a pipe at the oil company’s offshore transfer station leaked, spilling about 50,000 liters of crude into Rayong Bay July 27.
Cleanup workers frantically fight a losing battle, trying to keep oil from ruining Ao Prao beach in front of Le Vimarn Cottages & Spa on Samet Island. About 50 tons of crude oil spilled into the sea off Rayong province Saturday morning, July 27, after a leak sprung in a pipeline operated by PTT Global Chemical Plc, a subsidiary of state-owned oil and gas company PTT Plc.
Workers dressed in white jumpsuits armed with towels and rubber booms fought a losing battle with the black waves as they washed ashore in front of luxury vacation cottages and spas. Within hours, about a third of the guests at affected hotels had canceled or left, according to various media reports.
On July 29, Rayong Gov. Wichit Chatpaisit declared Koh Samet a marine-disaster area and ordered the entire Ao Prao Bay closed to tourists and boats. PTT Global Chemical CEO Anon Srisaengtaksin told a press conference that the company would clean up the mess within three days.
Oil spill containment rigs were brought in immediately, shown here on July 28 using chemicals to dissolve the oil.
But Sumet Saithong, chief of the Laem Ya Samet Islands National Park, told the media the same day he expected it would take at least 15 days to restore the beach.
Navy officials moved quickly to contain the petroleum after it was discovered. A flotilla of vessels from the navy, Marine Department and IRPC Co. dropped booms around the V-shaped spill about 10 nautical miles off the Maptaput Industrial Estate and Thailand Maritime Enforcement Coordination Center Region 1 personnel also sprayed chemicals to break up the slick.
It was all too late for Ao Prao Bay, as oil in some places as thick as 30cm washed up on shore.
Strong winds that whipped up swells thwarted the effectiveness of the booms, however, allowing a 300-meter-long stretch of oil to escape containment. Thai authorities then hired planes from Singapore’s Oil Spill Response Co., which arrived at U-Tapao-Pattaya International Airport Monday.
By that evening, PTT and Navy officials claimed 95 percent of the oil had been dissolved, although that news came too late for the pristine beaches of Koh Samet.
The oil washing ashore was 30cm thick at some points and officials were desperate to contain the damage to Ao Prao Bay, although traces of oil started appearing in Kham Bay, also on the island’s western side. At press time, Rayong authorities were bracing for impact, as the oil reportedly was headed for Rayong’s famous Ban Phe Beach.
Most of Koh Samet’s hotels and resorts are on the eastern side of the island and officials remained confident other parts of the island would not be affected.
Clean up crews work to clean up the mess July 29 on Ao Prao Beach.
The fishing industry, however, will not be so lucky. Fishermen reported the smell of crude oil even where it couldn’t be seen.
Rattana Manprasith, director of the Eastern Marine Fisheries Research and Development Center, said the agency planned to collect water samples and check the behavior of marine life to determine the extent of the damage.
Both public officials and area residents have already begun calling for PTT to compensate the region for the spill. Rayong MP Sathit Pititaesa on Monday demanded a full investigation and for PTT to establish a fund to cover the cleanup and mitigation of the oil-spill damage.
An aerial view of the spill on the day it happened, July 27.
Jaturas Iemworaniran, president of the Rayong Small Fishermen’s Association, claimed marine resources and food sources already have been destroyed by the spill and demanded that PTT take responsibility.
“This is not the first time that Rayong has faced these incidents with affects and sloppy solutions,” Jaturas said. “Today, companies have used chemicals to dissolve the oil into the sea. This will definitely destroy the ecosystem in the long-term. Isn’t it time for a clear and concise environmental solution strategy?”
The prevailing winds and tides drove the oil slick headlong into western Koh Samet.
As dawn broke on July 29, officials realized there was nothing they could do to stop the oil from reaching Koh Samet.