Iranian Oil Tanker Leaves 10-Mile Oil Slick, Clean-Up Operation Underway
TEHRAN (Tasnim) – The burning Iranian oil tanker that sank in the East China Sea on Sunday in the worst oil ship disaster in decades has produced a 10-mile long oil slick as black smoke continued to billow from the site, Chinese media and Japanese authorities said on Monday.
Chinese media reported that the slick was 1 to 4 nautical miles wide and had grown several times in size since Sunday, stirring further worries about damage to a marine ecosystem rich in fish and bird life, according to Reuters.
The slick was discovered east of where the ship sank on Sunday.
A clean-up effort on the sea’s surface has begun and rescue teams have called a halt to the large-scale search for survivors, reducing it to “normal” operations, according to the report.
The blazing vessel, which was carrying 136,000 tons - almost one million barrels - of condensate, an ultra-light, highly flammable crude oil, sank on Sunday evening after several explosions weakened the hull.
The tanker Sanchi had been adrift and ablaze after crashing into the freighter CF Crystal on Jan. 6. Strong winds had pushed it away from the Chinese coast, where the incident happened, and into Japan’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
China’s State Oceanic Administration said on Sunday that because the explosions had ruptured the hull of the ship, a large amount of oil in surrounding waters was on fire.
The sinking marks the biggest tanker spill since 1991, when 260,000 tons of oil leaked off the Angolan coast.
Black smoke was still billowing from the site of the sinking, the Japan Coast Guard said on Monday.
The service sent two patrol boats and an airplane to the area to search for missing crew members and assess the latest situation, a spokesman for the Coast Guard said over the phone.
Japanese authorities lost track of the tanker as of 0840 GMT on Sunday, the spokesman said. The ship’s last confirmed location was about 315 km (195 miles) west of Sokkozaki on the island of Amami Oshima.
Amami Oshima is one of the northern islands in the Ryukyu island chain that includes Okinawa.
A Chinese salvage team on Saturday recovered two bodies from the tanker. Another body, presumed to be one of the Sanchi’s sailors, was found on Jan. 8 and taken to Shanghai for identification.
The salvage team recovered the Sanchi’s voyage data recorder, or “black box” from the bridge of the tanker. But the team was forced to leave the ship after just half an hour because the wind shifted and “thick toxic smoke” had complicated the operation.