‘South Korea has been a country of particular focus for many years,’ says Alex Hunt, Technical Team Manager with the International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation, an organisation that provides support to national governments when dealing with oil spills in their respective territorial waters.
‘The spills are due to the relatively high risk of shipping incidents, particularly in the Korea Strait where there are busy shipping lanes, and winter storms,’ says Hunt.
ITOPF has attended 60 incidents in South Korea since 1980, including eight where more than 700 tonnes of oil was spilled. ‘These spills involved a variety of different types of ship, including tankers, bulk carriers and container ships,’ Hunt told Geographical .
ITOPF works in collaboration with the Korea Coast Guard on major incidents. ‘The Coast Guard has gained a lot of experience in spill response after major incidents like the Sea Prince in 1995 and Hebei Spirit in 2007, and it has increased the number of specialised vessels and its stockpiles of equipment,’ Hunt adds.
An expert response to spills is vital for South Korea because the country has an extensive fisheries and aquaculture sector. ‘It is understood that some 30 per cent of the country relies on the fishing industry either directly or indirectly to some degree,’ says Hunt. A spill can interrupt business for ‘wild’ fisheries (where fish are uncontrolled and need to be caught), while for aquaculture the concern is over stock contamination.
‘The Korean National Institute, has a great deal of experience of studying the effects of spills on the environment and the results after major spills, such as the Hebei Spirit,’ says Hunt.
These studies have demonstrated that even the worst affected sites were recovering fairly rapidly after the incident and have also been used to help guide the implementation and lifting of fishing bans.
This article was published in the May 2015 edition of Geographical Magazine