Thousands clean up spilled oil in SKorea

Updated: 2007-12-09 19:18

Mallipo Beach - Thousands of people mobilized by South Korea's Coast Guard used shovels and buckets Sunday to clean up a disastrous oil spill polluting a swathe of the country's scenic and environmentally rich western coast.

Local residents use baskets to remove dense crude oil at the Mallipo beach, west of Seoul, South Korea, December 8, 2007. [Agencies]

About 100 ships, including Coast Guard, navy and private fishing boats, were also to help contain and clean up South Korea's worst spill, said Coast Guard official Kim Young-hwan.

At total of 7,500 police, military, civil servants and volunteers struggled to remove the oil, some battling headaches, dizziness and nausea.

The oil started hitting beaches Saturday, a day after a Hong Kong-registered supertanker was slammed by a South Korean-owned barge that came unmoored from its tugboat in rough seas about seven miles off Mallipo, one of South Korea's best-known beaches. The area also includes a national maritime park.

On Saturday, tides of dark sea water crashed ashore at Mallipo beach, while the odor reached areas a half-mile away.

Kim Sun-seon, who works for an ocean clean-up business on South Korea's southeast coast, wore rubber gloves and a mask to cope with the strong smell.

"We don't know when we can finish this work," she said. "We have been shoveling oil since yesterday but the waves just keep bringing more oil. I feel dizzy."

Nearly 2.8 million gallons of crude gushed into the ocean, more than twice as much as in South Korea's worst previous spill in 1995.

Thick, smelly waves of crude washed ashore, turning seagulls black and threatening fish farms along an 11-mile stretch of coast, defying efforts to contain it by dropping oil fences into the ocean and using chemicals to break it up. Mats were placed on the beach to absorb the oil.

The Coast Guard said the last of three leaks in the tanker had been plugged Sunday morning.

Mallipo, an important stopover for migrating birds including snipe, mallards and great crested grebes, also has an abundant fishing industry.

Choi Kyung-hwan, a 58-year-old fisherman, came to the beach Sunday to help, but despaired for the area where he has lived for 30 years.

"Mallipo is finished," he said.

Choi, wearing a thick winter coat, said the strong odor of oil had sickened his wife.

"But I came here because I have to do something," he said. "I don't know when we can finish. But we have to continue."

Cho Yoo-soon, who runs a raw fish restaurant at Mallipo beach, 95 miles southwest of Seoul, said the situation was overwhelming. She said restaurants in the area were closing, and she could not pump fresh sea water into her tanks.

"Without fresh sea water, the fish will start going bad after a week," she said. "We can't even walk around here because the entire beach is covered with oil."

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