2007 Oil Spill, Pado-ri Beach, Taean County, South Korea

At about 7:30 local time on 7 December 2007, a barge owned by Samsung Heavy Industries being towed by a tugboat collided with the anchored Hong Kong registered crude carrier Hebei Spirit, which leaked over 10,000 metric tons of crude oil into the Yellow Sea, just off the coast of Taean County.  The region affected by the spill is home to one of Asia’s largest wetland areas, used by migratory birds, and also contains a national maritime park and 445 sea farms.

This is Pado-ri Beach prior to the accident.

Damage to the coastline was devastating.

About two weeks after the spill I hooked up with a group of nurses going to Pado-ri Beach to assist with cleanup efforts.

This is what it looked like when we arrived.

The spot I worked.

We were given coveralls (mine were white) and rags. We picked up rocks and wiped the oil from them. I quickly learned that with the waves gently sliding up to us again and again while we worked, that I need not move around the beach; a stone or boulder I wiped clean would be covered in oil again as soon as the next wave arrived. As our rags became saturated with oil, we deposited them in a 40-gallon drum and drew clean ones. In that manner, we physically removed the oil from the beach, drop by drop.

Hundreds of volunteers worked for months to rehabilitate the environment.

I was working full time as a communications consultant for the Republic of Korea Air Force, so I was only able to devote one weekend to assisting with the cleanup efforts, but as we were leaving the beach, the residents had lined up to give us snacks and an old man looked me in the eye and said 감사합니다. Gamsahamnida [thank you]. The six seconds of that interaction made the six hours of back-breaking squatting on the beach in the cold December water worth it.

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