Oil slick destroys underwater plants

Marine life on Korea's west coast has been devastated by the oil spill that hit the region in December, according to a government report.

The Environment Ministry said plants in the area have been reduced by half after 12,000 tons of crude oil leaked into the sea following the collision between a supertanker and a barge.

According to the government’s official website, Korea.net, officials are concerned the damage could threaten species higher up the marine food chain, such as fish and birds.

The report said the amount of various kinds of seaweeds, such as laver, brown seaweed and sea lettuce found in one square metre of water was just 43% of the levels recorded in February 2007.

Large amounts of sea creatures such as oysters, crabs and octopuses are believed to have been killed during the spill.

However, local environmental groups have warned that migrating birds could cause further damage.

“Oil-tainted sea gulls and other birds in the region are moving inland and to other shorelines that were not polluted,” Kim Sin-hwan, a member of the Korean Federation for Environmental Movement’s Taean branch told Korea.net.

The spill is believed to have occurred when a barge owned by Samsung Heavy Industries broke free from its towing lines and collided with the Hong-Kong registered oil supertanker, the Hebei Spririt.

Thousands of tonnes of crude oil washed up on the coast along a stretch of scenic coastline about 60 miles (100km) south of the country’s capital Seoul, leading the government to declare a state of disaster.

The Korean government says the oil spill destroyed the livelihoods of about 40,000 households and polluted about 300km of shorelines, 101 islands, 15 beaches and 35,000 hectares of fish farms.

A trial is underway to decide who should bear responsibility for the accident. Both companies have been charged with negligence and violations of South Korea’s maritime pollution prevention law.

Kate Martin

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