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Oil-shipping rules to be reviewed

officials concerned for fate of rare irrawaddy dolphins after boat sinks

An accident on Monday involving a 16-metre-long vessel carrying used oil, which sank off Samut Sakhon province, has prompted marine-protection agencies to tighten their measures to control oil transportation by sea.

Meanwhile, the Marine and Coastal Resources Department is worried that the used oil that leaked from the sinking boat will affect the food bank of marine life in the area, and Irrawaddy dolphins in particular.

"About 30 Irrawaddy dolphins live around this area. We will today send a team to investigate the impact on marine plants and animals in the sea, and along the coastal area of Samut Sakhon," Sathaphon Butda, head of the Marine and Coastal Resources Centre Division 2, said yesterday.

He said his team would spend about two days studying the impact of the used oil that had spread over the sea in the Gulf of Thailand.

He estimated that the leaked oil would reach as far as Bangkok's Bang Khunthien district, which is about 5 kilometres from where the vessel went down.

Although the sinking of the boat is the first such accident to be reported off the coast of Samut Sakhon, there were seven similar accidents nationwide last year. More worryingly, another seven accidents of this type occurred in just the first three months of this year.

In the most recent accident, the Marine and Coastal Resources Department said the 30-gross-tonnage vessel had sunk on Monday afternoon.

Surachai Buraphanonthachau, head of the Samut Sakhon provincial marine office, said he had been informed by a crew member in control of the vessel at the time that it had sunk because water had flooded the engine room. The boat was left stranded under 3 metres of water. It was reported that over 1,000 litres of oil leaked out.

He said that despite this version of events, an official was now investigating the actual cause of the sinking, as the boat had been carrying used oil which had more than likely been transferred from a larger vessel while both were at sea.

The owners of such smaller boats then sell the used oil to other merchants for recycling, he said.

Surachai has also sent a team to control the spread of the leaked oil in the Gulf of Thailand by spraying a chemical substance - registered with the Pollution Control Department - into the sea.

He said his team would take a day to eliminate the oil currently on the surface of the sea.

Meanwhile, a private rescue boat was sent to the site in an attempt to pull the submerged vessel back to the surface.

Its crew hopes to achieve this by inserting an air-filled tank into the stricken boat. "I cannot say when this boat will be lifted from under the sea," said a crew member of the rescue boat.

However, he did not give any details as to the rescue boat's owners, or who had hired them to carry out the task.


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