Oil spill endangers fragile recovery on Koh Samet

Boats deploy linked buoys in a bid to contain the oil spill off Rayong on Wednesday. (Photo: Royal Thai Navy)

An oil spill flowing towards Koh Samet is dampening the island's tourism outlook as operators could face an influx of cancellations, as happened with a previous leak at Ao Phrao in July 2013.

"We do not want a repeat of the terrible spill at Ao Phrao Bay, as locals worked for years to clean it up," said Sarinthip Tupmongkholsup, president of the Tourism Association of Koh Samet.

She said natural resources damaged by the previous leak have not fully recovered. Even though the incident occurred at a particular part of Koh Samet, poor air quality from the massive amount of crude oil affected travel sentiment for the whole island, said Ms Sarinthip.

According to the Pollution Control Department, 180,000-200,000 litres of the 400,000-litre spill were heading to Mae Ramphueng Beach and the Khao Laem Ya–Mu Koh Samet Marine National Park. Without intervention, the oil is scheduled to hit the shore on Friday at 3-5pm.

Ms Sarinthip said an oil spill is worse for tourism than a Covid-19 outbreak because tourists cannot swim and seafood is likely to be contaminated.

She said the government should prevent severe damage by any means necessary.

The island's tourism revenue has already been clobbered by massive cancellations following stricter entry requirements, said Ms Sarinthip. Tourists visiting Koh Samet must show a negative ATK test result within 72 hours before their travel date after the island reported nearly 100 Covid-19 cases after the New Year holiday.

Tourism operators are urging tourists to take the test in Rayong, which costs around 150 baht, because the test is costlier on the island.

The island welcomes 300-500 tourists per day during weekdays, down from 2,000-3,000 a day prior to the Omicron wave.

She said the average weekday hotel occupancy rate is stuck in the single digits. There are 1,000-2,000 tourists a day during the weekends, still lagging the 3,000-4,000 tourists per day last month and 10,000 tourists a day in 2019.

Phairot Pitiphantarat, president of the Rayong Tourist Association, said news about the leak led to some cancellations and postponements, but most tourists were awaiting further updates.

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