Idyllic tourist island blighted by 50,000 litre oil spill

The Thai island of Ko Samet has found its once-immaculate white sand beaches despoiled this week when an oil spill dumped thousands of gallons of crude oil onto the tourist hotspot. Fears for the island’s future deepen as authorities struggle to complete the clean-up, whilst tourism levels have since seen a sharp decline since the accident.

Over 13,200 gallons (50,000 litres) – comparable to the amount of oil carried by one and a half oil tankers – spewed into the Gulf of Thailand on Saturday morning. The spillage is thought to have been caused by a leak in a pipeline manned by PTT Global Chemical Plc. The oil slick did not reach the tiny tourist resort island until Sunday, when it washed ashore. PTT Global Chemical Plc. were quick to apologise, citing a three-day clean-up, but this improbable deadline has yet to be met.

Whilst the amount of oil spilled is not considered large when compared with other such spillages in past years (for example, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico spilled millions of litres of oil per day for over a week), the clean-up effort has run aground somewhat, hampered by adverse weather conditions and unpropitious ocean currents. These unfortunate setbacks have allowed the spilled oil to spread through the water, marring other neighboring islands.

Paul Johnson, a researcher at the Greenpeace Research Laboratories in Exeter, UK, said of the disaster: “What’s interesting about this oil spill is the disproportionate effects it is having. It’s a relatively small volume of oil compared to tanker disasters, but it’s having huge impacts on tourism and the marine industry.”

Those effects are clearly visible in the huge numbers of tourists who have hastily left the island since the spillage occurred, as well as those who have cancelled or postponed their visits to the once pristine and popular tourist resort.
Ko Samet is a popular tourist destination which hosts large numbers of visitors year-round, both from Thailand and overseas. Its proximity to Bangkok makes it a favourite holiday destination for Chinese holidaymakers, however, the recent disaster has done little to boost the island’s ratings.

Sources include: The Guardian, New Scientist, Huffington Post

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