In South Korea, Plenty of Sympathy for US Oil Spill

Jun 23, 2010

Korean bloggers, for whom painful memories of the deadliest oil spill in Korean history in 2007 remain fresh, are expressing their worries and sympathy following the BP oil spill disaster.

In December 2007, 2.7 million gallons of crude oil gushed into Korea's scenic west sea near the Port of Daesan on the Yellow Sea coast of Taean County after a crane barge owned by Samsung Heavy Industries slammed into the Hebei Spirit, a Hong Kong-registered crude oil carrier.


South Korean civilians and soldiers work to remove the crude oil spilled over the beach in Taean, following a tanker accident.

South Korean civilians and soldiers work to remove the crude oil spilled over the beach in Taean, following a tanker accident.

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Around 1.2 million people from different social backgrounds volunteered in the West Sea shore clean-up, which lasted several months. Celebrities, politicians and professionals scrubbed stones covered in oil by hand, one by one, then used absorbent materials to soak up the remaining oil.


A volunteer of the Taean clean-up reported on her blog the mild distress she suffered during the clean-up and following days due to the strong smell of the oil:

Even after we scrubbed off the oil, Taean turned into a mess again when the water came in. The smell of the oil gave me nausea and headaches… Even after I returned to my house, I still felt malaise and nausea.


Even though the Korean government dispatched hundreds of vessels, cranes, helicopters and airplane to the west coast, most of the cleaning up had to be done by hand, as the oil permeated deep and wide into the shore's complicated landscape, hiding itself in the sand and millions of rocks laying there.


In Taean Haean National Park, volunteers ensure that every single rock is wiped clean.

In Taean Haean National Park, volunteers ensure that every single rock is wiped clean.

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A blogger on his Daum blog noted that the BP oil spill clean-up might speed up if more manpower and financial support are injected, at the same time expressing envy of the United States’ high-end clean-up equipment:

Since the US is a rich country, high-quality equipment has been deployed at the scene in large amounts. There is a chance the clean-up operation may prove to be much easier than people expected. This is quite contrary to our case of scrubbing oil off with our hands, one by one… The US has formed the Oil pollution trust fund…with a spending cap (of the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund) for each incident at US$1 billion. This is way too small since there is no large group of volunteer workers in the United States like we had in Korea.


Local media reported that the Taean oil leak was only two-thirds the amount of oil that spews from the BP oil pipe on a single day. And it was one-third of the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Nevertheless it was deadly enough to kill marine life in one of Korea's largest wetland areas, damaging the fishing industry and 445 sea farms, and the tourism industry by tainting a national maritime park, thereby wrecking people's livelihoods.

Samsung, one of biggest multinational conglomerate corporations in Korea, had been blamed for causing the disaster for letting its barge go wild with loose cables linking it to the tug. As the oil spill case in Mexico Gulf appeared, Koreans came to recall that Samsung Heavy Industries got off with a relatively light punishment.


A Naver blogger expresses an unpleasant feeling towards governments and companies shirking their responsibilities:

This [BP oil spill] reminds me of the Taean oil spill in winter 2007 in Korea. We made a fast recovery thanks to help of numerous volunteer workers… It seems it will be hard for the US government to wiggle its way out of the criticism on its belated response to this incident. Now the government tries to dump all responsibility onto BP. This reminds me of the Samsung Heavy Industries' Taean oil spill liability verdict, where Samsung got away with a penalty of only 5.6 billion Korean won [about US$4.6 million]. All this makes me feel bitter.


Not only was compensation capped at 5.6 billion Korean won, Samsung was also fined just 30 million Korean won, or about US$22,000.

Some bloggers are approaching this issue from a realistic angle. One Naver blogger has posted speculation on the effect the BP oil disaster will have on oil prices, predicting it will surpass US$100/barrel in this year.


Another OhMyNews blogger stressed the urgent need to seek a fundamental way to stop oil disasters from recurring:

Koreans, after being burnt from their oil spill disaster, have expressed their sincere worries over the endless spewing of oil in the United States and the aftermath it will bring on a global level.


Lee Yoo Eun also blogs at Global Voices