Korean beaches blackened by oil spill


South Korea deployed more than 100 ships and thousands of troops today to clean up the worst oil spill in its history, which has blackened beaches, coated birds in tar and cast a foul smell over a nature reserve.

The slick has washed up in an area spanning 17 kilometres of the west coast, about 100 kilometres southwest of Seoul, that is home to popular tourist beaches, a national park and oyster beds. The spill is threatening to become a major environmental disaster.

The slick extends about 20 kilometres from the Hong Kong-registered tanker that began leaking an estimated 10,500 tonnes of crude oil on Friday, after a barge carrying a crane punched holes in its hull while it was anchored, the coast guard said.

The leak was patched early today, it said.

It will likely take more than one month to clean up the mess, maritime minister Kang Moo-hyun told reporters.

Volunteers and government personnel have been scooping oil with buckets and absorbent cloth, treating birds covered in oil and scrubbing blackened rocks. Large numbers of fish and waterfowl have been killed.