Villagers, navy personnel and national park officials battled to clean up the oil, which reached the popular tourist island on Monday. The operator of the pipeline, part of the state-owned oil giant PTT Global Chemical, announced in a statement Sunday that it had dispatched 10 ships for the urgent cleanup. Authorities in the province have declared the surrounding area a disaster zone and pledged immediate assistance to affected residents.
"It covers about 300 meters (990 feet) of the beach," Khao Laem Ya National Park chief Soomet Saitong told the news agency AFP. "That's a lot."
According to PTT Global Chemical, about 50,000 liters (13,000 gallons) of crude oil gushed into the sea on Saturday. The pipeline sprung a leak about 20 kilometers (12 miles) off the coast of the eastern province of Rayong.
A different PTT subsidiary had a hand in a huge oil spill off northwestern Australia in 2009, that country's largest offshore drilling accident.
Greenpeace has urged an end to oil drilling and exploration in the Gulf of Thailand in light of the current "massive leak." The environmental group announced that more than 200 oil spills have occurred in Thai waters during the past three decades.
"The Gulf of Thailand, the nation's food basket, has long been under threat from oil spills along oil transport routes, at points of discharge and loading of oil carriers or from the several hundred oil drilling operations across the Gulf," Greenpeace activist Ply Pirom said.
The spill threatens the ecosystem not just by the pure volume of oil released into the ocean and onto the beaches, but also because of the harsh chemicals used in cleanup efforts.
"The main damage will be to corals and the fish food chain," said Srisuwan Janya, president of Thai environmental group The Stop Global Warming Association.
mkg/rg (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)