SEOUL, Dec 25 (Reuters) - South Korea has arrested a tugboat captain and barge commander involved in the country's worst oil spill and plans to indict them on negligence and pollution charges early next year, a coast guard official said on Tuesday.
The accident occurred when a crane mounted on a Samsung Heavy Industries Co. barge collided with a Hong Kong-registered tanker on Dec. 7, spilling more than 10,500 tonnes of crude oil that washed up on west coast beaches, including a nature reserve.
The Taean Coast Guard arrested the two late on Monday, the official said.
"Once the investigation is finalised, we then hand over the case to prosecutors. The prosecutors' office will indict them early next year," he said.
Last week, the coast guard said it was seeking arrest warrants for four people: the captain of the Hebei Spirit tanker, the captains of two tugboats towing the barge and the person responsible for the crane mounted on the barge.
On the advice of prosecutors, the coast guard later decided not to arrest the Hebei Spirit captain and the second tugboat captain. Both were still being investigated for possible criminal negligence, the coast guard official said.
The tugboat captains and barge commander are suspected of taking the crane out in rough waters despite warnings not to do so, local media reported.
A towline between the crane and one of the tugboats severed about 15 minutes before the accident and the tanker did not move out of the way in time, a coast guard report said.
Tens of thousands of volunteers have been cleaning the polluted coastline, about 150 km (95 miles) southwest of Seoul, with thousands spending their Christmas holiday scooping up oil and scrubbing rocks.
Most of beaches have been cleaned but residents say their livelihoods have been ruined because the spill wiped out fisheries and the tourism industry had dried up. (Reporting by Rhee So-eui; Editing by Jon Herskovitz and David Fogarty)