South Korea sets $849 milion payout for 2007 oil spill

SEOUL (AFP) - A South Korean court has ordered a US$694-million (S$849 million) compensation payout to victims of the country's worst oil spill, which fouled miles of coastland in 2007, decimating local fishing and tourism industries.

"This is the first estimate of the damage officially made by the court. It is the first big step towards compensating those affected by the oil leak," court spokesman Choi Noo Lim told AFP on Thursday.

The spill occurred when a a Samsung Heavy Industries barge carrying a construction crane broke free and rammed an anchored Hong Kong-registered supertanker, which subsequently leaked 10,900 tons of crude oil.

Miles of beaches, notably in Taean county about 110 km southwest of Seoul, were smothered by the spillage.

The accident devastated the region's once-vibrant fishing and tourism industries, leading to a number of suicides by local residents as a legal wrangle over who qualified for compensation dragged on for years.

The court in the city of Daejeon set the total damage to area residents and businesses at 734.1 billion won (S$849 million).

It ordered Hebei Spirit Shipping, the owner of the supertanker, to shell out 145.8 billion won and Samsung Heavy Industries 5.6 billion won.

The London-based International Oil Pollution Compensation Funds (IOPC) and the South Korean government are to cover 178.4 billion won and 404.3 billion won, respectively.

The payout is a record for environmental accidents in South Korea, but less than 20 per cent of the 4.2 trillion won originally sought by some 120,000 affected residents and businesses.

They have two weeks to file objections to the court's estimate.

"I'm afraid there will be objections by many, many residents whose compensation bids were either reduced or rejected... which will further delay actual payout to victims," Mr Choi said.

The IOPC may also challenge the figure, which is far higher than its own assessment.

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