Thai oil spill having "extreme" impact on tourism - minister
By Amy Sawitta Lefevre
BANGKOK (Reuters) - An oil spill that has blackened beaches at a Thai holiday island was having an extreme impact on tourism and could spread to the coast of the mainland and affect the fishing industry, officials and an environmental group said on Tuesday.
Tourists were pouring off the island of Koh Samet, 230 km (142 miles) southeast of Bangkok, while soldiers and volunteers in white bio-hazard suits struggled to clear black oily sludge off the white sand.
"We're working to move visitors to other locations if they want to move," Tourism Minister Somsak Phurisisak told reporters.
"I'm very concerned, I didn't think this spill would impact tourism in such an extreme way."
About 50,000 liters of crude oil poured into the Gulf of Thailand from a pipeline on Saturday, about 20 km (12 miles) off the coast, the fourth major oil spill in Thai history.
The pipeline operator, PTT Global Chemical, apologized and said the leak had been plugged. The clean-up operation would take another two to three days, it said.
Worst hit was the beach at Ao Prao, or Coconut Bay, but tourists elsewhere on the island were getting out.
"We're staying on another beach but we're not taking any chances. We are checking out," Daria Volkov, a tourist from Moscow, told Reuters. Continued...