The South Korean Coast Guard said Monday that it had arrested the captains of a barge and a tugboat that caused an oil spill this month, the nation’s worst.
The accident happened Dec. 7 when the tugboat snapped its towing cable and a barge carrying a crane began drifting in rough seas and strong winds off the nation’s west coast.
The barge smashed into a 147,000-ton oil tanker, the Hebei Spirit, which was at anchor. The crash ripped three holes in the tanker’s hull, causing 2.8 million gallons of crude oil to leak out and wash onto beaches and into scores of marine farms.
The captains were arrested on suspicion of negligence and violation of pollution laws.
They are being detained at the marine police station in Taean County, the region worst hit by the oil spill, the Yonhap news agency reported.
Earlier in the day, Judge Lee Sang-woo issued arrest warrants for the captains “as the accident is such a grave concern, and the two are expected to face severe punishment at a trial.”
The captain of the 11,800-ton barge is suspected of having ordered his crew to sail despite rough seas, coast guard officials have said. The barge is owned by Samsung Heavy Industries.
The oil spill this month was about one-fourth the size of that spilled by the Exxon Valdez into Prince William Sound off Alaska in 1989. The Exxon Valdez spilled 260,000 barrels, or 11 million gallons.
The new spill was twice as big as one off South Korea in 1995 that caused $101 million in damages to fishermen and took months to clean up.
Tens of thousands of police officers, troops and volunteers have been cleaning the shoreline since the latest accident, but environmentalists say the damage could last for years.
The European Union, the United Nations and Japan dispatched environmental experts to assist in the cleanup. Aid also came from Singapore, China and the United States.
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