Like other environmental calamities, the 54,000-litre oil spill in the Gulf of Thailand from PTT Global Chemical's pipeline on the morning of July 27 will soon become a distant memory. Collective anger towards PTT has started to subside thanks to a well-oiled PR machine and orchestrated efforts by Thai authorities to play down the environmental impact.
PHOTO: ROENGRIT KONGMUANG
The public is now more familiar with television ads inviting us to return to a pristine Koh Samet and enjoy fresh seafood from the gulf.
But what happened has been recorded, documented and photographed to be remembered and learned from. A group of photographers do not want the spill to be easily forgotten. Calling themselves 10Fotos, the group took pictures of the oil spill and the blackened scars left on beaches and rocks. Some of their photos have been published in local and international media, such as Sarakadee Magazine and National Geographic Thailand, and through international news agency Reuters.
The group is holding a one-day exhibition titled "100 Days Of Oil Spill" at Suan Sone Beach in Rayong province on Sunday. It will feature photographs that are both beautiful and terrifying, and the event will also include a discussion on the environmental impact of the disaster.
"We aren't trying to take on anyone. We just want society to become more curious about the oil leak and its aftermath. We do not want this case to be forgotten," said Roengrit Kongmuang, a photographer with 10Fotos. Known as an environmental photographer, some of his stunning works have been used by Greenpeace.
PHOTO: REUTERS/ATHIT PERAWONGMETHA
"There are a lot of questions left unanswered about the event," he said.
"We have a lot of very interesting photos which serve as evidence that may encourage the public to ask more questions. There are photos of local fishermen who are now complaining that the fish population has reduced after the oil spill. There are images of chemical dispersants and coral bleaching that will make people doubt and start asking questions such as, 'What exactly happened here?'."
The group floated the idea to hold the show more than two month ago. At first, Roengrit said the exhibition was planned for Bangkok Art and Culture Centre. Discouraged by high fees, the group looked into other venues such as temples, but they didn't work out either. Finally, it was decided to use Suan Sone Beach in Rayong province. The show will also provide a forum for discussion on the environmental impact of the PTT oil spill, and there will be theatre performances and concerts.
Around 40 photos will be used. Besides Roengrit, the other nine photographers in the group are Bundit Chotsuwan, Arun Roysri, Athit Perawongmetha, Nat Sumanatemeya, Baramee Temboonkiat, Chanklang Kanthong, Roengchai Kongmuang, Wissanu Wisetputhasart and Piyavit Thong-sa-ard.
Some of the pictures may look familiar, such as the works by Athit Perawongmetha, who works for Reuters. But there are also unseen photos of the impact on local fishermen and underwater images of chemical dispersant PTT used.
PHOTO: REUTERS/ATHIT PERAWONGMETHA
"I would say the mainstream media, and especially television, briefly reported gruesome images of the oil spill during the first 10 days. Afterwards, the reports focussed on PTT's remedies and the authorities playing down the environmental impact. These photos will offer another side of the story," Roengrit said.
The exhibition is one of a few campaigns trying to raise questions with PTT, the largest listed oil and gas conglomerate in Asia-Pacific, and the government for its much-criticised response to the environmental disaster. Roengrit said the disaster reflects the failure of the government to protect public interest.
"What I learned from taking photos of the oil spill is that PTT is doing what it needed to do to protect its interests, which is quite understandable. But Thai authorities and politicians, whose duties are to work for the public, failed to do their jobs. They obviously helped PTT play down the effects," he said.
After 100 days, the case gradually disappeared from the media's radar despite the negative impact still being felt. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has stepped in to probe the marine impact as after receiving a petition from fishermen asking it to help them with compensation.
NHRC also received a petition from a group called PTT Oil Spill Watch. Signed by 30,000 people, it asked for an independent investigation to be launched on the cause of the oil leak.
PTT Oil Spill Watch wants the petroleum company to apply the same standards it provided to Australia during an oil spill there in 2009. In that incident, another PTT subsidiary, PTT Exploration and Production (Australia), was fined A$510,000 (15 million baht), mostly for breaching the country's Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Act, and was required to fund an independent environmental monitoring programme as part of the clean-up process for up to five years.
In the meantime, this photographic exhibition will at least remind people that while the oil slicks may have dispersed, the environment will take a long time to heal.