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As black waves of crude oil wash up onto the shores of Samet’s Prao Bay, hundreds of workers in white jump suits arrive to clean up the beach and remove the oil from the water as hundreds of tourists pack their bags and leave.
The streaks of crude oil have marred about three hundred meters of the shore, despite earlier claims from the PTT Global Chemical Plc (PTTGC) and the Thai Royal Navy that the spill had been contained and would be unlikely to cause any environmental damage.
Rayong’s deputy provincial governor Supeepat Chongpanish today said that his top priority was to get rid of the oil on the sand and in the seawater and ensure the slick does not spill into other shores. The area has now been declared a disaster zone by the provincial authorities, and those affected by the spill will receive immediate assistance.
Satit Pituchecha, Democrat MP for the Rayong province claims that the amount of oil leaked is far more than the 50,000 liters the PTTGC are admitting to. He claims that if the company’s figure was correct the quantity of dispersants authorities have used would have been enough to clean up the spill. He went on to say that the incident has caused severe damage to Rayong’s tourism and the environment that will take up to six months to recover.
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.”
When large oil spills reach beaches the oil washes into coastal marshes, wetlands and mangroves and fibrous plants and grasses then absorb the oil. This damages the plants and can make the whole area unsuitable as a wildlife habitat. When the oil eventually stops floating on the surface it starts to sink into the marine environment and has the same disastrous effect there, killing many fish and organisms that are essential links to the global food chain. Oil kills birds and marine mammals such as sea otters, seals, dolphins and whales. It can block the blow holes of dolphins and whales making it impossible for them to breathe properly and it coast the fur of otters and seals making them vulnerable to hypothermia.
The disastrous effect on wildlife, the eco system and tourism, only raises the question of how, with more oil drilling planned in the Gulf of Thailand and the rigs getting increasingly closer to the shore of Samui, how are we going to prevent such disasters that have such devastating effects and who will be culpable when such a disaster does occur, especially if the amount of oil being spilled is not being correctly reported, let alone contained.