Tanker, tugs and barge all blamed in spill
Negligence on both sides, between tugboats, a barge and an oil tanker, caused Korea’s worst-ever oil spill in the Yellow Sea off the coast of the Taean Peninsula on Dec. 7, the Korean Coast Guard said yesterday after completing an initial investigation into the accident.
More than 12,500 kiloliters of oil gushed from three holes in the hull of the Hong Kong-registered oil tanker Hebei Spirit after a barge came loose from its tugboats and crashed into the tanker.
The oil slick has been spreading south, threatening marine fisheries and wildlife and despoiling beaches that draw tourists in the summer.
The Coast Guard has named four people in the case so far, including the captains of the two tugboats, only identified as Jo, 51, and Kim, 45, and the barge captain, Kim, 39. They are charged with violating the marine pollution prevention law and negligence in the barge crash.
The Coast Guard said it has also indicted the captain of the Hebei Spirit, who wasn’t identified, for violating marine law.
According to the Coast Guard, the captains of the Samsung Corp. tugboats and the barge knew the sea would be rough due to strong tides but left shore anyway in the early morning of Dec. 7.
They also failed to respond to an emergency call from a coastal control center for one hour and thus failed to follow proper safety procedures.
On the other hand, the oil tanker captain had enough time to avoid the collision and he should have known there was the possibility of a crash, the Coast Guard said.
It was 6:52 a.m. when the wires that tied the barge to the tugboats broke free, and the oil tanker was about one to two miles away, according to the investigation.
The barge crashed into the oil tanker at 7:06 a.m.
The Coast Guard said more people could face charges as it will continue its investigation due to discrepancies in the testimonies of some witnesses.
The Samsung employees say they followed proper procedures by warning the tanker of the danger and trying to maneuver the tugboats between the barge and the ship after the wires gave way. The tanker’s crew says they pulled up their anchor to try and move the ship, according to the Coast Guard.
By Shin Jin-ho JoongAng Ilbo / Lee Yang-kyoung Staff Reporter [firstname.lastname@example.org]