By Park Si-soo
The number of volunteers participating in the oil spill cleanup operation has topped the 1-million mark, according to the South Chungcheong provincial government Thursday.
More than 10,500 tons of crude oil was spilled in the sea off Taean, South Chungcheong Province, on Dec. 7, after a Samsung Heavy Industries barge collided with the 146,000-ton Hong Kong-registered tanker ``Hebei Spirit.''
Over the last 32 days, students, workers, soldiers, policemen, public officials and other concerned individuals rolled up their sleeves to help deal with the manmade environmental catastrophe.
The office for emergency operations in Taean said that ordinary people took up the largest portion of volunteers with 580,000, followed by local residents with 186,700, soldiers and policemen with 127,000, public officials with 57,143 and soldiers with 13,685.
The emergency office said an average of 20,000 volunteers took part in the operation during weekdays and 3,000 over the weekends.
``The most amazing thing that I experienced in the spill site was the work of volunteers,'' Roger Percy, Canadian oil spill expert working in Taean as a volunteer, told The Korea Times. ``I have been to many of these places, but never have I seen so many people devoted to the work. Thanks to their dedication, the place has gotten much better.''
The government has floated oil fences stretching more than 50 kilometers in the sea off Taean to prevent further contamination from spilled oil. It has collected approximately 4,153 tons of crude oil spilled by utilizing some 268,710 kilograms of oil absorbents and other cleanup devices. But experts said there is still a long way to go before restoring the once scenic beaches in the West Sea.
``We are not sure when the cleanup operation will be wrapped up. Because additional tar clots are found along the southern coast and even around Jeju Island. Furthermore, there are tons of oil still hidden under the sand,'' the office said.