News of an oil leak within the Gulf of Thailand broke on the morning of Saturday, July 27, with reports that 50,000 litres of crude oil had leaked from a pipeline operated by PTT Global Chemical Public Limited just 20 kilometers southeast from the Map Ta Phut seaport of Rayong Province.
PTT's reaction in the Bangkok Post, however, appears to be untruthful: "A naval plane surveyed the affected area in the sea and found the spill was noticeably shrinking and the remaining oil slick was thin. The company confirmed the slick was contained and oil-spill dispersants were being sprayed. PTTGC said it expected the mission would be completed Sunday".
But given how unlikely this scenario was, we decided to set up a team to go to Rayong and assess and bear witness to the real situation.
By Monday, the oil slick had already landed on Ao Prao Bay of Koh Samet, which was once the most beautiful beaches on the island. When we arrived, the first thing I noticed was the strong toxic fumes in the air. It was impossible to breathe without a mask and my head started spinning.
When we moved in closer to the site, I could see hundreds of men in white jumpsuits working on a completely black terrain. It was like we were no longer on earth. The bay was completely blackened; the ocean had turned to a sea of black thick oil.
There were men standing in lines with buckets in their hands, the oil was being scooped out of the ocean manually and passed along the line to be dumped in a container. Next to them, there were several small-sized water pumps, pumping the oil from the waves into containers. On the beach there was also white paper being laid out to absorb the oil from the sand. One single steamer was used to steam rocks on the beach to get rid of oil stains.
It was lunchtime and the men were going to rest – at which point we were given another surprise by learning that these men were from the Thai navy. None of them were employees of PTT, the company that had caused this horrible accident.
The people I saw who were wearing PTT logos were walking around answering questions and observing the clean-up rather than actually doing the clean-up work.
By Tuesday, the oil slick had already reached mainland Rayong. Marine life was dying from unnatural causes and fishermen were complaining that the fish had disappeared. The situation was far from over or resolved – in contradiction to what PTT was saying. In fact, it was far more severe than I ever expected it to be.
This should not have happened to our ocean, an important source of food and income for Thailand. How can this ever be fixed? We can only hope that PTT will take full responsibility for this unforgivable accident and restore both the natural resources and the community’s livelihoods. PTT must be held accountable for both the short and long-term effects of this oil spill.
Sign our petition to demand that PTT takes responsibility for the cost of restoring the natural environment and for the Thailand government to review its energy policy and cease oil exploration and drilling in the Gulf of Thailand.
Sirasa Kantaratanakul is an Oceans Campaigner at Greenpeace Southeast Asia