Oil Threatens South Korean Seafood, Birds, Tourism

Hyung-jin Kim in Shinduri Beach, South Korea
Associated Press
December 10, 2007

UPDATE: The oil spill was 20 percent worse than initially believed, with a revised estimate of 78,920 barrels spilled, South Korea announced on December 20, 2007.

For oyster farmer Chung Hwan-hyang, damage from South Korea's worst-ever oil spill hit home.

"My oysters are all dead," the 70-year-old woman said Sunday as she and thousands of others cleaned foul-smelling oil from the local beach. "I cried and cried last night. I don't know what to do."

Some 7,500 volunteers, residents, and members of the military used shovels and buckets in a massive effort to clean up oil that began washing ashore Saturday, blackening beaches along the country's western coast.

About 2.7 million gallons (10.2 million liters) of crude gushed into the ocean Friday when a barge collided with a supertanker carrying more than 260,000 tons of crude oil.

For Chung and other residents of Taean County's Shinduri Beach, nearly 100 miles (160 kilometers) southwest of Seoul, the mood was despair and shock at how the pollution could shatter lives and businesses.

Fish and Birds

The slick has affected at least 181 aquatic farms producing abalone, seaweed, littleneck clams, and sea cucumbers, according to Lee Seung-yop, a Taean County official.

No detailed damage estimates for the area as a whole have been released, though Lee said officials feared it would be substantial.

Ku Bon-chun, chief of a local fishermen's association at Mohang Port, close to Mallipo Beach, said oily waters submerged 32 acres of aquatic farms.

"I feel like my heart is empty," he said. "These fishing farms are all finished."

Mallipo is considered one of South Korea's most scenic areas and serves as an important stopover for migrating mallards, great crested grebes, and others birds.

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