Beijing has dispatched ships to the scene of a sunken Iranian oil tanker in the East China Sea to contain pollution caused by a massive oil spill covering up to 50 square miles amid fears of devastating damage to marine life.
The Iranian ship, Sanchi — carrying 136,000 tons (almost one million barrels) of ultra light crude oil from Iran — had been in flames for eight days, since it collided with a cargo ship off the coast of China on 6 January. The vessel finally went down on Sunday after a new and massive fire erupted, sending a cloud of black smoke as high as one kilometer (3,280 feet) above the East China Sea.
The fire from the sunken tanker was extinguished on Monday, according to China Central Television (CCTV), but Chinese authorities say there are still concerns about major pollution to the sea bed and surrounding waters off Chinese coast. Two ships sprayed chemical agents aimed at dissolving the oil, CCTV said.
“This (clean-up) work is one of our focuses,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang. “It is also a priority area of our efforts. No one wants to see a large-scale secondary disaster.” He further said that the cause of the accident was under investigation.
The spill was 11.5 miles long and up to 4.6 miles wide and located east of the submerged ship, CCTV reported. This would amount to an area of some 50 square miles (129 square kilometers), it added. “The oil spill situation is very serious,” CCTV quoted a reporter on board a plane as saying.
Condensate, the term describes a range of light crude oils, is toxic and different form black crude that is often seen in oil spills. Condensate is also considerably more explosive than regular crude. If trapped underwater it could seriously harm the marine environment. The Sanchi’s fuel source also poses a major threat.
According to Alaska-based oil spill consultant Richard Steiner, the accident was “the single largest environmental release of petroleum condensate in history.”—Agencies