Oil Spill Spreads in East China Sea, Could be Largest in Decades

Iran appreciates China for its efforts to search the missing Iranian sailors aboard the oil tanker Sanchi, Iranian Minister of Labor, Cooperatives and Social Welfare Ali Rabiei has said.

The Japan Coast Guard said that the spill appears to be diffusing and disappearing over time, in line with expectations about the condensate's volatile nature.

Richard Steiner, an Alaska-based oil spill consultant, called on the Chinese government to conduct a survey of the sunken vessel as soon as possible, citing concerns about the possibility of continued leakage.

All 32 crew members on the tanker, 30 Iranians and two Bangladeshis, perished.

Iran's Special Task Force spokesman Mohammad Rastad said testimony from rescued crew on the CF-Crystal, as well as from rescue workers, suggested the Sanchi's crew likely died early on from a massive blast and the ensuing release of toxic gas, state media reported.

If all of the Sanchi's cargo spills into the sea, it would be the biggest oil slick from a ship in decades.

The slick covers an area of 101 square kilometers (39 square miles), after nearly doubling in size from the start of the week, according to figures released Wednesday by the Chinese State Oceanic Administration.

A salvage team located the wreck, which was at a depth of 115 metres (377 feet) under sea level, and plan to prepare to send underwater robots to explore it.

The tanker was carrying condensate, an ultra-refined, highly volatile form of ultra light crude oil used to make products such as jet fuel.

By comparison, in the sixth-worst spill since the 1960s, the Odyssey dumped 132,000 tonnes some 700 nautical miles off Canada's Nova Scotia in 1988, according to figures from the International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation website.

Chinese environmentalist Ma Jun was quoted by CNN as saying the spill took place in the country's largest fishery, the Zhoushan fishing ground. Among other measures, they hope divers will be able to pump out much of the condensate before they have a chance to leak onto the seabed. Japanese and South Korean officials said that they were not concerned about the prospect of the oil reaching shore.

Greenpeace East Asia's Rashid Kang said, "We are anxious about the potential environmental impact that could be caused by leakage from the vessel that was holding nearly 42 million gallons of condensate oil".

  • Jon Douglas