South Korea to Ban Single-Hulled Tankers
South Korea announced on Monday, January 7, that single-hulled tankers will be banned from its territorial waters beginning in 2011, five years earlier than previously planned. This decision is a result of the oil spill, the worst in South Korea's history, which occurred on December 7. However, the legality and practicality of such a move is receiving scrutiny from shipbrokers and other interested maritime parties.
The Hong Kong-registered Hebei Spirit collided with an 11,800-ton barge on Friday morning, December 7, near Taean county, South Chungcheong province in South Korea. A crane that the barge was carrying punctured three holes in the 146,000-ton tanker during the collision, causing the vessel to leak 10,500 metric tons of oil into the surrounding water. A day after the incident, the government declared a state of disaster in the area. The South Korean government expects the spill to negatively affect oyster and abalone farming, as well as tourism businesses, in the vicinity of the spill.
A January 5 government press statement summarizes the cleanup effort: "The fervor of the cleanup campaign has led to the so-called miracle of Taean. Volunteers are coming to the affected area from across the country to transform a black ocean of despair into a source of hope. While volunteers have helped clean up onshore, Coast Guard staff have spent more than 20 days offshore by building oil fences and removing oil leaks with their bare hands despite the cold weather and strong waves."
Moreover, the South Korean Navy recently ". . . began cleaning up hard-to-reach islands in the Yellow Sea where the country’s worst oil spill has left hundreds of kilometers of shoreline covered with tar and oil residue," according to a January 4 government release. "The reason," a Navy statement declares, "the Navy decided to help clean up the islands is that the cleanup workers have not been able to reach these areas due to lack of transportation and inferior working conditions there." Thus far, the Navy, which plans to spend 10 days cleaning the "three major inhabited islands in the West Sea," has deployed about 22,000 military personnel and 229 vessels to aid in the cleanup.
South Korea is one of the 146 countries that agreed to ban single-hulled tankers built before 1977 beginning between 2011 and 1016. The country had planned to ban the vessels starting in 2015, but the massive spill has prompted earlier action. "We can implement the ban sooner than planned following the oil spill," an official at the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries is quoted as saying in a January 7 press statement. As 171 of the total 354 oil tankers to enter South Korean waters in the first 11 months of last year were single-hulled vessels, banning such "spill prone ships" will greatly reduce the chance of another spill like the Hebei Spirit's from occurring. It has also been pointed out by more than one party that eliminating nearly half of the eligible oil tankers to service the South Korean market will also greatly affect the supplies of energy for this Asian country.
Regardless, South Korea is optimistic about the current cleanup, according to a January 6 statement: "Despite suffering from Korea’s worst oil spill, waters remain deep blue off the shore of Taean County in South Chungcheong Province. Seagulls are back and fishermen are sailing out to sea again."
President Roh Moo-hyun was also positive about the outcome of the spill in his "new year's message to the nation" on January 1: "I have a strong confidence in the potential of the Korean people. There have been many difficulties all along, but our people have overcome those hardships at every turn. As one of the latest examples, countless citizens are presently joining in the effort to clean up the oil spill in Taean, thereby making yet another miracle. I believe that our citizens deserve to win praise from the global community."
For the latest news on the cleanup, see South Korea's government Web portal here.