South Korea experienced the worst oil spill in its history in an incident which saw 82,950 barrels, or 10,500 tonnes (11,571 tons), of crude oil leak from three punctured tanks of a very large crude carrier (VLCC), Hebei Spirit, on Dec. 7 into the waters off Taean County, South Chungcheong province. Oil from the damaged tanker and tar-like oil clumps have been floating to other coastal areas, threatening marine life and wild birds living there.
"Sandy or rocky beaches can usually be normalized in five years after an oil spill, but some mud flats and wetlands don't recover even after 20 years," said Lee Jae-hong, director of the natural preservation office at the Environment Ministry.
Some 200,000 volunteers across the country managed to curb the spread of the oil slick and clean up 70 per cent of the coastline near Cheonsuman Bay, a world renowned sanctuary for migratory birds, with the help of experts arriving from the U.SJapan, the European Union, and two U.N. agencies over the weekend. China reportedly sent 56 tonnes (62-tons) of dispersants while a private company from Singapore sent a helicopter to help with the clean-up operations.
Hebei Spirit was en route to the Daesan port to unload the crude cargo carried from the Middle East to Hyundai Oilbank's refinery on South Korea's west coast when the oil tanker was hit by a crane barge operated by Samsung Heavy Industries under rough weather conditions on Dec. 7. Samsung earlier promised to bear responsibility for the incident.