A crab covered in�oil�slick is seen at Ao Prao Beach in Koh Samet

'Fourth-worst' oil spill damages popular Thai tourist resort

About 50,000 litres of crude oil poured into the Gulf of Thailand last weekend and washed ashore in a popular tourist resort, putting fishing industry in danger.

The source of the spill is thought to a major pipeline about 20km off the coast of Thailand, operated by PTT Global Chemical.

The oil spill, described as the fourth biggest in Thai history, is already taking its toll on tourism on the island of Koh Samet, some 230km south east of Bangkok. Tourists are leaving in significant numbers, with those yet to arrive cancelling their bookings, raising concerns about the effect on local economy.

The operator of the broken pipeline has claimed the leak is already fixed; however, environmental groups have raised questions about the true extent of the disaster, questioning the information provided by PTT Global Chemical, which is part of Thailand’s biggest energy firm – the state-controlled PTT.

"What has happened is far more serious than what PTT said on the first day. We can expect an impact on fisheries and from chemical contamination in the food chain," Ply Pirom, programme manager at Greenpeace Southeast Asia, told Reuters.

Soldiers and volunteers have been working on cleaning up the blackened beaches but it has been estimated the operation will require at least two or three extra days.

"We're working to move visitors to other locations if they want to move," tourism minister Somsak Phurisisak told reporters.

"I'm very concerned; I didn't think this spill would impact tourism in such an extreme way."

Pakdihan Himathongkam, a spokesman for the Thai government, said aircraft were releasing chemical dispersants over the 1km-long oil slick, while the popular Ao Prao beach, also known as the Coconut bay, was closed to the public.

"Our worry is that it could reach the mainland," Pakdihan said.

Another subsidiary of PTT – PTT Exploration and Production - was involved in the 2009 offshore drilling accident in the Montara oil field, off the north-western coast of Australia.

Back then, the oil spill, resulting from thousands of gallons of crude oil spewing into the sea after an explosion of a damaged oil well, was the biggest in Australia’s history and pollution spread as far as Indonesia. Australian government later said systematic shortcomings in PTT’s safety and security procedures had been the main culprit of the disaster.

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