Rehabilitation prospects after worst Korean oil spill are good, UN experts say

27 December 2007 –

The prospects for rehabilitation after the worst oil spill in the history of the Republic of Korea (ROK) are good, thanks to quick and effective action by the Korean authorities, according to a joint United Nations-European Commission Assessment Team.

Although emergency assistance is not required for clean-up operations after the oil tanker Hebei Spirit collided with a barge 100 kilometres south of Seoul, the capital, on 7 December, releasing 10,500 metric tons of crude oil into the sea, the team recommended continued monitoring and analysis to determine the impact on the environment, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said today.

The team also concluded that shoreline assessment training should be carried out to assist with longer-term clean-up options and to build national response capacity. Commending the speedy and effective reaction of the authorities, who used methods consistent with international oil pollution response practices, the team noted that follow-up activities began almost immediately after it completed its mission.

The affected coastline, approximately 300 kilometres, hosts a number of fish farms and an active wild fishery industry, and is home to habitats for a variety of migratory birds. The region is also a popular tourist destination.

As a result of the team’s findings, the Government of Canada is deploying a team of oil spill specialists to provide Shoreline Clean-up Assessment Training to Korean personnel. In addition, the UN Environment Programme and (UNEP) and European Commission will collaborate on a “Post Disaster Needs Assessment” to help national authorities establish an environmental monitoring methodology.

The seven-day UN-EC mission, which ended on 22 December, undertook a number of site visits by land, sea and air and established a partnership with national, provincial and local authorities involved in the clean-up. The majority of beaches visited were cleaned, a result of strong coordination and the considerable effort of dedicated personnel and volunteers from the general public, OCHA said.

A mission report, to be shared with the Government, is being finalized and will contain a number of practical recommendations. The team was fielded by the Joint UNEP/OCHA Environment Unit and EC Monitoring and Information Centre, comprising experts from OCHA, UNEP, Canada, Denmark, France, the Netherlands, the EC Environmental Directorate-General and the European Maritime Safety Agency.

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