updated 12/25/2007 2:09:47 AM ET 2007-12-25T07:09:47

The captains of a crane-carrying barge and its tugboat have been arrested on charges of causing the accident that led to South Korea's worst-ever oil spill, a coast guard official said Tuesday.

The Dec. 7 accident occurred after a wire linking the barge and tugboat was cut in high winds, sending the barge slamming into a Hong Kong-registered supertanker. The tanker leaked 78,920 barrels of oil into South Korea's western waters, jeopardizing the ecosystem and blackening beaches.

The two South Korean captains _ only identified by their family names of Kim and Cho _ were charged with professional negligence and violation of the ocean pollution law, a coast guard officer said on condition of anonymity, citing office policy.

The men were taken to a detention facility after a local court issued an arrest warrant, the officer said, adding his office had also been investigating the Indian captain of the tanker Hebei Spirit for any wrongdoing.

About 490,000 coast guard officers, soldiers, residents and volunteer workers have been mobilized to clean up the muck. On Tuesday, some 23,550 people were still working, along with 210 ships and six helicopters, according to the Coast Guard.

The spill was nearly a third of the size of the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster that sent 260,000 barrels of oil into Alaska's Prince William Sound.

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