The Iranian oil tanker, Sanchi, which carried 136,000 tons or one million barrels of highly flammable oil mix, sank last January 6 after colliding with another ship. Aside from the fatal explosion causing its 32 crew members dead or missing, the oil spill has now spread and tripled its area, resulting in environmental and health hazards.
According to a press release by the Chinese State Oceanic Administration, the spill was comprised of four separate oil slicks, covering a sum of over 100 square kilometers, the same size as Paris. This is yet the largest oil spill since the nineties.
Scientists have cautioned the consumers in Japan, China, and South Korea to be more vigilant in purchasing seafood while the concerned governments have not yet released reports on the toxicity brought by the oil spill as it might have contaminated millions of fish with carcinogens. An internationally recognized expert on oil spills, Professor Richard Steiner, has also pushed fisheries in Beijing and Tokyo to close while the surrounding area is not yet proven safe for operations.
According to a Greenpeace spokesperson, the affected coastal region in the East China Sea has its fish and other edible species such as hairtail, yellow croaker, chub mackerel and blue crab threatened by the spill. “The area is also on the migratory pathway of many marine mammals, such as humpback whale, right whale, and gray whale,” adds Greenpeace.
The oil spill is located far from the Korean coast such that the scientists estimate it would most probably take at least three months to reach land. However, predicting how fast an oil spill would spread is difficult. “Oil spills can have a devastating effect on the marine environment and on coastal communities. Strong ocean currents mean that once released into the ocean, an oil spill can relatively rapidly spread over large distances,” said Dr. Katya Popova of the National Oceanography Center at the University of Southampton, United Kingdom.