Seoul (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Fifteen thousand tonnes of crude oil have leaked from a Hong Kong-registered tanker after it was hit by a crane while at anchor off the port of Taean, south of Seoul.
South Korea's maritime ministry says the 146,000-tonne tanker, Hebei Sprint, was anchoring near Taean to discharge crude brought from the Middle East at the port's unloading facilities.
Industry sources say the crude was being unloaded for South Korean refiner Hyundai Oilbank, but the refiner was not immediately available for comment.
A Coast Guard official says the crane hit Hebei Sprint early on Friday, local time, and the equipment was in transit after being used to build a bridge in Taean. However, the coast guard said the leaked oil has already spread to an area of 2 km wide and 7.4 km long. The South Korean government has sent 57 vessels and 4 helicopters to the spot to prevent further spreading of the floating oil.
The spillage is the largest in South Korean waters since a 5,000 tonne crude discharge in 1995 at Yeosu, south of Seoul.
The tanker carried 136 thousand tons of highly flammable condensate oil. The fear is that it will explode or sink polluting the environment. One corpse recovered; another 31 sailors are missing.
The tanker was on fire and with smoke columns reaching up to 3 km in height. Large oil patch of about 10 km2 formed after it sinks and burned all night.