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海汙防制(1) Oil slick preparation

The oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico is now officially the worst natural disaster the United States has ever faced. The catastrophe has made people around the world more aware of the potential danger of drilling for oil, and transporting crude oil by ship. Here in Taiwan, where we are surrounded by ocean on all sides, people are wondering what would happen if there was a major oil spill here? In Kaohsiung City, which has the largest port in the country, the Marine Bureau has drawn up a 13-step plan to contain and clean up an oil slick. Next, we find out if Taiwan is ready for a major marine spill.

Specialist reaction team

” Hello, marine spill hotline! Where is the oil slick? How many tons of oil? ”

When an oil leak happens, Kaohsiung Marine Bureau – which has the only specialist reaction team in Taiwan – springs into action.

Kaohsiung Marine Bureau section chief, Liu Zhonglin :” This marine team includes the armed forces, business, government and academia. There are 21 organizations. If the spill is over 3 tons, we mobilize all 21 units. ”

13-step oil slick plan

The team has developed a 13-step plan to clean up oil spills. First, the disaster call is received. Second, the relevant authorities are informed, and then disaster victims are rescued. Next, an emergency response center is established, and the location and extent of the disaster is pinpointed. The fifth step is to announce warnings about the worst-hit areas.

Kaohsiung Marine Bureau division chief, Liu Zhonglin :” The disaster warning is divided into three areas: hot, warm and cold. The hot area is the frontline response region, the warm area is between the cold and hot areas. And the cold area is where personnel can retreat to rest. With this data we locate a base point. With that point, we use a direction map.”

The science of sea spills

The job of dealing with an oil leak is not just about cleaning up the ocean, but making scientific calculations.

After a leak, the oil slick will weather in different ways. Apart from drifting and spreading with the current, tide and wind; some of the oil will evaporate, or attach itself to floating garbage and other items. Some will also be absorbed into particles and sink to the bottom, or penetrate into the beach. Oil will also be eaten by fish and other sea creatures. Some oil may be washed against the shore; and the rest will emulsify in the water. The slick will darken and its area can expand by 70-90 percent, making the clean-up job very difficult. So containing the spill and tracking its movement is very important.

Kaohsiung Marine Bureau section head, Zhuang Shifeng :” First we estimate the speed of the oil. We’ll find out about the ocean currents, and wind direction and speed.

Stopping spill spread

The direction of the oil slick can be calculated by factoring the current speed and direction, and adding the wind speed and direction. With an estimate of the extent of the spill, prevention and containment measures can be taken.

Kaohsiung Marine Bureau division chief, Liu Zhonglin :” The sixth step is disaster control, including the spill areas on the ocean and land. We launch unmanned aerial vehicles if it’s a chemical accident that we can’t send people into. To control the oil, we have three principles: first, contain; second, outflank; third, plug.”

Slick clean-up

Once the extended area of the spill is contained, the ninth step is to put in smaller booms to make the clean-up easier; while at the same time establishing a backup containment area.

Kaohsiung Marine Bureau division chief, Liu Zhonglin :” We use boats and manpower in a very mobile way to cut off the spill. Next is cleaning up the oil. After doing those three steps, we do an extended inspection of the contaminated ocean area.”

Ocean watch

After the final clean-up and inspection, the last step is to do a safety check on all the equipment and personnel. The 13 steps are designed to reduce the impact of an oil spill to a minimum. At other times, the team organizes patrols to prevent tankers dumping waste oil into the sea. Although there is little most people can do to stop oil spills, the least we can do is keep watchful eye on our oceans.

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