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Hebei Spirit

Hebei Spirit
Accident date
Republic of Korea
Accident area
near the Port of Incheon
Spill area
Cause of spill
Product transported
heavy crude oil
Quantity transported
260, 000 tonnes
Nature of pollutant
crude oil
Quantity spilled
~10, 000 tonnes
Ship / structure type
Oil tanker (Single hull)
Built date
322 m

The accident

On Friday 7 December 2007, the oil tanker the Hebei Spirit was anchored in front of the Port of Incheon on the west coast of South Korea, south of Seoul, when it was hit by the barge Samsung 1 which was drifting as its towline had broken.

This collision led to 3 breaches in the hull of the Hebei Spirit, and a spill of at least 10,000 tonnes of crude oil into the Yellow Sea, only 8 kilometres from the coast. For Korea, this spill was on a comparable scale to that of the Sea Prince incident in 1995, which was until now the largest spill that the country had ever seen.


The Coastguards, the Navy and fishing boats spread dispersants to reduce the amount of pollutant drifting towards the coast. Response teams deployed oil booms in front of sensitive areas along the shoreline.

The drifting oil slicks nevertheless soiled over 300 km of shoreline. This is a sensitive area where fishing and aquaculture are important activities and where many migrating birds stop over. The region is also a popular tourist destination for its beaches. This linear coast comprises rocky areas, sandy and pebble beaches and mud flats.

The three types of oil spilt all came from the Persian Gulf: Iranian Heavy, Upper Zakum and Khafji. It should be noted that Khafji is the same type of oil as was spilt in the Sea Prince incident. These oils are light crudes, with fairly similar characteristics.

Contrary to predictions by behaviour models, the oil has remained relatively fluid and has not emulsified much. Its low viscosity means that skimmers can be used on the water surface. On beaches, selective clean-up is being carried out manually (using shovels, buckets and sorbents) and in rocky areas the Koreans are using pressure washers.

International assistance

he Koreans expressed their need for international assistance. Upon the request of the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, the United Nations (OCHA/UNEP) and the European Commission rapidly appointed a team of 8 experts who were sent to South Korea on 14 December. An engineer from Cedre was part of this team. As it so happened, two members of the Korea Marine Pollution Response Corporation, the organisation responsible for the management of oil spill response operations, had just spent 3 days at Cedre, visiting our training facilities, with a view to acquiring similar facilities so as to be better prepared to respond to oil spills.

The Assessment Team assessed the need for international assistance to aid with clean-up operations, advised the Government on measures employed by various national response agencies and provided guidance on medium and long-term environmental impacts related to the oil spill. This mission finished on 22 December 2007.

The UN/EC Assessment Team's report determined that no immediate international assistance was required to aid clean-up operations. The majority of beaches had been cleaned as a result of the strong coordination and significant efforts of personnel from the KCG, MOMAF, Korean Maritime Police, Navy, Army, and volunteers from the private sector and general public. The effective deployment of oil booms immediately after the spill protected many sensitive areas. Certain shorelines were naturally cleaned by tides and wave action.

Last update on 10/01/2008

See also

Sea & Shore Technical Newsletter, 2013, n°37

Sea Prince, Date : 23/07/1995, Location : South Korea

External links

NOAA database (IncidentNews)

NOWPAP MERRAC, Northwest Pacific Action Plan Marine Environmental Emergency Preparedness and Response Regional Activity Centre

OCHA/UNEP, United Nations Office for the Coodinations of Humanitarian Affairs

 IOPC Funds, Compensation claims

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