BANGKOK (AP) — Workers in white suits used buckets to scoop up globs of crude oil blackening the once white sands and emerald waters of a tourist island in Thailand's eastern sea on Tuesday, three days after the oil leaked from a nearby pipeline.
Progress was being made on cleaning the oil that washed into Prao Bay on the west coast of Samet Island on Sunday night, though not fast enough, and rough seas and strong winds spread the oil to a rocky bay farther north, said Rayong deputy governor Supeepat Chongpanish.
"The most urgent issue is to get rid of the oil from the bay as soon as possible," Supeepat said in a telephone interview. "The longer it stays on, the worse effect it will have on the people and environment."
Provincial authorities have declared Prao Bay a disaster zone, but said that more popular beaches on the island's east coast remain untouched.
About 50,000 liters (13,200 gallons) of oil — about the amount contained in one and a half tanker trucks — spilled into the Gulf of Thailand off Rayong province on Saturday morning from a leak in a pipeline operated by PTT Global Chemical Plc, a subsidiary of state-owned oil and gas company PTT Plc.
The company said it detected a leak when crude oil from a tanker moored offshore was being transferred to the pipeline, 20 kilometers (11 miles) from a refinery in Map Ta Phut, one of the largest industrial estates in Southeast Asia. The leak has since been fixed.
The slick floated in the sea for more than a day before it began washing ashore on Samet Island, a resort island popular with both foreign and domestic tourists due to its white sand beaches and its proximity to Bangkok, 140 kilometers (90 miles) away.
"The black waves started rolling in since last night and by the morning the beach was all tainted with oil," Kevin Wikul, the assistant front desk officer at a resort in Prao Bay, said Monday. He added that some guests requested early check-outs Monday.
Authorities said it would take some time to assess the environmental damage.
"The spill is definitely having an impact on the environment, but we have not detected any deaths of marine animals yet at this point," provincial Gov. Wichit Chatphaisit said Monday. "PTT will have to take responsibility for the damage this has caused."
The company apologized and said the cleanup will likely be completed within three days. It said it t has flown in oil spill management experts and a plane from Singapore. Thai navy vessels also joined the cleanup efforts.
"We acknowledge this incident has damaged our reputation and we will not let it happen again," CEO Anon Sirisaengtaksin said at a news conference on Monday.
In 2009, another PTT subsidiary was involved in the Montara oil spill, one of Australia's worst oil disasters, in the Timor Sea off western Australia.
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