When Korea’s Yellow Sea Turned Black (slideshow)

Notes on the seashore of Taean County: It's a place of fine-sand beaches backed by stands of seaside pines. Small restaurants in the fishing villages serve up oysters on the half shell, abalone soup and sashimi platters at fair prices. Stylish young women from Seoul come down here on summer weekends to show off their bikinis and the shopkeepers keep their coolers stocked with plenty of beer. It's the best fly-fishing locale for Japanese sea bass on Korea's western coastline and great migrations of ducks, teal and shorebirds arrive in the fall from Siberia.

It's one of the better getaways in South Korea.

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{gallery}KoreaOilSpill{/gallery} PHOTO 1: On Friday morning, December 7th, the Hebei Spirit, a Hong Kong-registered single-hulled oil tanker was at anchor when it was struck by a tugboat powering a barge that held a massive crane atop its deck. It punched three holes in the tanker's hull and the result would be the worst oil spill in South Korean history. PHOTO 2: By the next morning hundreds of people arrived to volunteer and more came throughout the weekend. The stench of crude oil could be smelled from the far side of the village at Mallipo beach. Human chains formed to pass buckets of oil scooped up in the black tide. Current estimates for the amount of crude oil spilled range from 66,000 to 109,500 barrels. PHOTO 3: At the end of the human chain, the last two men dumped bucket after bucket of crude oil into holding vats. The contents of the vats were pumped into tanker trucks. Throughout the clean-up, two emotions of were evident: the shock and horror of the grotesque oil washing up on the shore; and the immense community spirit and camaraderie of people working together to right a wrong. PHOTO 4: President Roh Moo-hyun declared Taean County and five surrounding counties as disaster zones. Police, firefighters and soldiers were mobilized to battle the oil spill. Military helicopters thumped in the sky surveying the spread of the oil slick. The Korean Salvation Army and the Red Cross aided the volunteers by setting up water stations and soup kitchens. A local hospital worked out of an ambulance to treat those with headaches and nausea caused by the oil stench. PHOTO 5: Approximately 6,000 soldiers were mustered to the Taean region. They were supplied with oil absorbent towels and they stretched the material into the tide to soak up as much oil as possible. Once fully absorbed, the towels were dragged onto the beach and piled up. PHOTO 6: The garbage accumulated as the work continued and the piles of oil-soaked towels grew higher. A lone farmer volunteered the use of his tractor and he single-handedly cleared the beach of the oiled-up towels and absorbent materials. PHOTO 7: The public address system used by lifeguards to caution summertime swimmers was used to coordinate people and resources. The beachfront main street became a chaotic cluster of tanker trucks, media vans and garbage trucks hauling away the refuse. PHOTO 8: Other volunteers attempted to clean up the beach as best they could: snow shovels and dustpans became the main weapons, along with buckets, plastic bags and any sort of container that could haul sludge. PHOTO 9: The oil permeated everywhere and everything. As workers managed the muck, the oil residue coated tools, clothes, cars, stairways and sidewalks. It was impossible to keep anything oil-free during such a filthy and enormous clean-up job. Oil was smeared on pine trees, fences and buildings; people tracked the oil on their shoes for blocks and into supermarkets and cafes where shopkeepers put down cardboard in an attempt to prevent stains. PHOTO 10: An American English teacher volunteering at Mallipo Beach said that on Saturday evening she could not see the beach. "Not even in the moonlight," she said. "It was all blackness."

According to the Ministry of Marine and Fisheries, at least 2,100 hectares of aquaculture farms and six beaches have been affected by the oil spill.