Thursday, August 1, 2013

Koh Samet: White Sand And Black Oil Gunk

Ao Phai beach, on the opposite side of the island from the recent spill

As weeks go, the island of Koh Samet (or Samed, if you prefer... I flip-flop on some transliterations) hasn't had a very good one. The story goes that PTT Global Chemical was pumping crude oil from an offshore drilling platform to a container ship when a leak in the piping allowed somewhere between 50,000 liters (according to PTT) up to 100,000 liters (according to some environmental groups) of crude oil into the Gulf of Thailand, forming a thick layer of gunk on the relatively pristine water of Phrao Bay, on the Western side of the island.

On the map below I've added an insert that shows a little detail of where the spill occurred and came ashore at Ao Phrao. In the main map most of Koh Samet is covered by "Khao Yaem La - Mu Ko Samet", which is the national park whose boundaries cover a large part of the central area and Eastern side of the island.

I recently stayed on the Eastern side of Samet, on the beach at Ao Phai (near the asterisk on the inset map) so when the news began to leak - pardon the weak pun - I was concerned that the beautiful spot I'd visited was now awash in thick, sticky crude oil. Thankfully that was not the case, and I'll post about that resort soon.

Outside my bungalow on Ao Phai beach on the Eastern shore of Koh Samet, a few months back

While the lion's share of tourists vacation on the long stretch of beaches on the Eastern shore, the Western shore is home to some of the more pricey resorts, and I'm sure they're hurting now. Estimates are that it may be up to a year before the mess is truly cleaned up, and although PTTGC has said they'll make good on losses to the fishing and tourist industries, I tend to doubt that's really going to happen.

PTTGC has said they'll cover any damages over their $50 million in insurance coverage, but that remains to be seen, of course. Any of you who've had to deal with insurance companies know that their prime marching orders are to make you put in claim(s) multiple times, reduce any amounts claimed as often as they can and make any payments they're cornered into making for as long as possible. While the corporate resorts may do OK, many of the smaller interests will suffer. That's a sure bet.

The latest news I've read is that the island is essentially shut down at this point; the regular-as-clockwork (or as regular as anything on Thai time can be) ferries and other boats to and from the main pier of Ban Phe have stopped running and most of the people who don't actually live on the island have been evacuated.

The beach at Phrao Bay, bearing the brunt of the mess... so far.

With the oil slick now moving up over the Northern end of the island and heading toward the mainland - Koh Pla Teen, Koh Kudee and Koh Kham seem to be the "guesstimated" targets for it to hit land. Unfortunately there are important coral reefs in its path, and there's great danger of harming or destroying the delicate life there. Let's hope the damage is as minimal as possible.

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