JAN 15, 2018 3:36 PM PST

Oil tanker wreaks havoc on East China Sea

An Iranian oil tanker that crashed into a Hong Kong-registered vessel on January 7 has been ablaze since and has now sunk, leaving many concerned over the oil spill it left in its wake. The tanker was carrying 136,000 tons of oil – around 1 million barrels valued at $60 million – from Iran to South Korea when the collision occurred, making it the biggest tanker spill since 1991.

The tanker, burning on the sea. Photo: Reuters

After days of search and rescue, the tanker’s crew of 30 Iranians and two Bangladeshis are all thought to be victims of the tragedy. According to China's state news agency, Xinhua, the oil spill that leaked after the tanker sank is being monitored by the National Oceanic Bureau. The substance carried by the tanker was natural gas condensate, which is highly toxic. It contaminated a 10-square-kilometer area.

Now, there is no good place for an oil spill to occur. But where this tanker sank was particularly unfortunate for the marine life beneath the surface. Following Greenpeace, the event happened in a key spawning ground for several fish species. It also crosses migration routes of various marine mammals.

“At this time of year, the area is used as wintering ground by common edible species such as hairtail, yellow croaker, chub mackerel and blue crab. The area is also on the migratory pathway of many marine mammals, such as humpback whale, right whale, and gray whale,” Greenpeace said.

The following footage was published before the vessel sank. 

Although the East China Sea already struggles with pollution, it has a thriving marine ecosystem. Scientists are still unsure how this oil spill will impact the region. Professor Fu Pengcheng, from Beijing University of Chemical Technology, was not positive in assessing the scenario, saying it could take decades or even centuries to remediate the affected area.

"Now the most important thing we need to do is to send a team of experts to evaluate the situation and try to make some appropriate plans to minimize the damage," Fu said. One management technique could involve using bacteria to convert the oil and other harmful chemicals and compounds into less harmful substances.

Sources: ABC News, CNN, Reuters

About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
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