The burning and sinking of the Iranian tanker Sanchi in the East China Sea is one of the biggest ecological disasters in oil history. When it happened? What is the exact amount of oil that has been discharged at sea? And what are the consequences and impacts of the latter?
Discretion of the disaster
Following a collision with a bulk carrier (cargo ship) off Shanghai, the Iranian tanker Sanchi caught fire and drifted for nearly a week until it sank off the Ryukyu archipelago. The tanker had on board a crew of 32 people. Of these 32 crew members, only three bodies were found and the Chinese and Japanese authorities announced that there was no hope of finding survivors, as the rescue operations on the sunken vessel had been made very difficult because of the flames and extreme temperatures, which reached 89 degrees Celsius.
The true magnitude of the catastrophe
As condensate spills in the seas and oceans have never exceeded 1 000 tons, it is thus far impossible to predict or measure the actual impact of water contamination by 110 000 tons of condensate (corrected by the Chinese authorities since the wreck. Original estimate: 136 000 tons), not forgetting that the tanks to feed the ship’s own engines were also filled, the quantity they contained was estimated to be 1000 tons of fuel oil. According to the experts, the sinking of the ship will greatly promote the dispersion of the cargo; this has amplified the degree of catastrophe.
The China Sea is known for its rare and fragile ecosystem, its whales, sea turtles or even its marine birds. Beyond the highly toxic cloud that emerges from the fire, the catastrophe lies in the fact that the ship sank rather than fail. This is the worst scenario for fauna and flora.
By spreading into the seabed, the condensate will severely degrade the biotope and ecosystem by asphyxiating all types of marine plant animals or undoing their filtering properties. By contacting the condensate, marine species can contract diseases, experience sterility problems or succumb to poisoning. Exposure of eggs to hydrocarbons may also have contaminated them and create in the long term a problem of ecosystem renewal.
And to conclude:
According to Richard Steiner, a specialist in oil spills, “This is the biggest release of condensate in the nature of the whole history of petroleum”. Judging as a dangerous disaster for the marine environment: preventing its destruction is going to be one of the big stakes for the authorities.