A teenage Thai volunteers helps in the cleanup of Koh Samet Island, following an oil spill that spread to the island. (Source: Reuters)
In recent days, Thailand has been marred by an oil leak happening from its pipeline in the Gulf of Thailand. During a routine transfer of oil from an offshore tanker to its pipeline in order to be refined in nearby Map Ta Phut, a leak was detected, which spread quickly. More than 13,000 gallons of oil, more than a full tankers' worth, leaked into the Gulf of Thailand before it was contained. While things looked better as Thai authorities moved to contain the oil spill, the slick managed to hit Koh Samet Island quickly, and stay for the last four days. Koh Samet Island is a well known resort location and tourist destination in Thailand, made memorable by its white-sand beaches and close proximity to Bangkok. The immediate impact remains unknown, but current estimates of damage to the tourism industry number to $70 million.
Now, it seems evident that other nearby islands have been affected, and the oil slick, stretching about 5 miles, is moving along with the current towards the Thai mainland. For its part, the oil company responsible, PTT Global Chemical, claims that they are cleaning up the oil spill quickly, enough that they expect it to be cleaned up in three days. This estimate has made environmentalists and even government officials skeptical, and worried about the actual environmental impact:
“From what happened we can say that this is a good example and alarming to the Thai Government that we are not ready for such an incident. Especially if you look at PTT Company which is one of the leading companies in Thailand and globally also, they are seen to not be really well-prepared for such an incident,” said [Ply Pirom, Greenpeace South East Asia program manager.]
The Thai government has been responsive in cleanup efforts and determining environmental damage, calling in experts from Singapore, especially given concerns of the economic damage to Koh Samet. Initial inspections of local coral reefs show no signs of damage from the oil slick. Still, the Marine Department of the Thai government has filed a complaint against PTT in regards to the spill. Engineers, including Environmental Engineering Association of Thailand President Prasert Tapaneeyangkul have also complained about the spill, suggesting that more be addressed about the cause of the spill:
“Engineering mitigation measures are very important, they have to be very seriously abided by otherwise this (crisis) will occur again and again. Most of the time it’s not from the engineering design but by human error so that is one of the most important things that this human error first of all must be eliminated,” [Tapaneeyangkul] stated.