Tourism may be hurt by Kenting spill: commissioner

The China Post staff

Pingtung Commissioner yesterday said that tourism in the southern county may suffer as a result of the Kenting oil spill and urged that the cleanup should be wrapped up as soon as possible. Commissioner Su Chia-chuan said that tourism in the sunny, seaside resort of Kenting may decline because of the oil spill which has enveloped coral reefs and shoreline in the nearby Lungkeng Ecological Preservation Area. Su had harsh words for Environmental Protection Agency head, Lin Chun-yi, who visited the area on Wednesday, the 25th day of the incident.

Responding to Lin’s claim that the disaster wouldn’t affect the livelihood of local fishermen, Su said he could only make such a claim “if he went and drank up the 500 tons of oil.” A five-member Legislative Yuan environmental committee called for Lin’s resignation after inspecting the Kenting National Park coastal area yesterday. The group said the EPA had severely underestimated the scale of the disaster and would continue to monitor the situation. Scholars too found fault with the EPA’s handling of the event: Chou Wen-yen, a professor of Marine Biology at National Sun Yat-sen University said that if the government had been quicker off the mark much damage could have been avoided. He also lashed out at the mainly Taipei-based media for its failure to report the incident sooner. Although the Greek cargo ship ran aground on Jan.14, the incident didn’t receive any substantial coverage until Feb. 5.

Despite passing a law on the prevention of sea pollution the government was completely unprepared for such a disaster, he said.

Meng Pei-jie, a scientist for the National Museum of Marine Biology said about 1,100 metric tons have oozed out of the stranded Greek-registered cargo ship. The ship was traveling from Singapore to mainland China when it developed mechanical problems and became stuck on a reef last month. Meng said it was too early to say what the long-term effects would be, but it was possible that the Pacific Ocean’s currents would shift and wash the oil away from the coastline. “The ocean changes so much. The faster the better,” Meng said.

Observers said the poor handling of the oil spill could tarnish the ruling Democratic Progressive Party’s “green” image. The party has long advocated turning Taiwan into a “green silicon island.”