UN sends team to help S.Korea oil clean-up

GENEVA, Dec 14 (Reuters) - The United Nations is sending eight environmental experts to assess damage from South Korea’s worst oil spill, caused by the leaking Hebei Spirit tanker.

Deployment of the team, composed of four U.N. experts and four from the European Commission, follows a formal request from South Korean authorities for international assistance, U.N. spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs said on Friday.

“The team will evaluate immediate needs following the catastrophe and pollution,” Byrs, spokeswoman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), told a news briefing in Geneva.

A week ago, a crane barge punched holes into the oil tanker which spewed 10,500 tonnes of its load into the sea.

Recovery of the oil has been painfully slow since the spill and the maritime ministry has conceded it was not properly prepared for such a disaster and did not have enough equipment.

The U.N./EC expert team will assess the need for equipment for a shoreline clean-up, Byrs said.

They will also evaluate the need for heavy equipment for a clean-up in the open sea, and help assess medium and long-term environmental damage, according to the U.N. spokeswoman.

The United Nations has previously sent experts to help with oil spill accidents in Lebanon and the Ukraine, as well as a toxic waste spill in Ivory Coast, she said. (Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; editing by Robert Woodward)