Iranian tanker explosion: East China Sea ecological disaster?
By admin February 27, 2018

Photo: RFA

On the afternoon of February 14th, a fiery collision sank an Iranian tanker “Sangqi” from the Iranian National Tanker Company in the East China Sea. Under the raging fire is the tanker, which was carrying 136,000 tons of condensate oil. The contents of the taker entering the sea is very concerning when it comes to the effects it will have on the ecology of the East China Sea. The area affected produced five million tons of seafood through four dozen species for China alone last year, including crab, squid, yellow croaker, mackerel and a local favorite, hairtail. If projections are correct, the toxins could soon make their way into the equally abundant Japanese fisheries.

As soon as the incident happened, people from all walks of life who covered the professional banner were alarmed: the fishery in the East China Sea suffered a devastating blow. Millions of fishermen will not be able to undertake their jobs as the East China Sea seafood now cannot be eaten for a number of years. This is a huge, unprecedented ecological disaster.

Why is this disaster so serious? First it is necessary to understand what condensate oil is. Condensate oil is not a crude but a lower alkane (C5-C10), a toxic, liquid byproduct of natural gas production. Fundamentally, condensate oil is natural gas, even ‘lighter’ than gasoline, more volatile and deflagrates. Gasoline and heavy oil are different in nature. Gasoline floats on the sea, quickly evaporates, and disappears. Crude oil, due to its large molecular weight and its properties close to heavy oil, is naturally high in viscosity, difficult to decompose, and sticks to marine life bringing harm to them. In other words, even if the incident involved crude oil, it would be a serious pollution incident for the vast ocean, but hardly a devastating catastrophe.

The vastness of the oceans transcends the human imagination. Let us objectively analyze the pollution impact of this incident. The oil tanker sank into the sea, carrying part of the condensate which had burned and exploded. In the end, about 10 km2 of condensate oil was formed on the sea when the tanker submerged, and some of the condensate oil may not have broken down but, instead, sank into the seafloor with the tanker. The condensate that has exploded is equivalent to a serious fire. Damage of about 10 km2 of condensate oil is expected to quickly evaporate, the residual water eventually can disappear. In laboratory conditions, more than 90% of them volatilize in an hour.

However, as the condensate itself is colorless and odorless, making it particularly difficult to analyze the consequences of the accident and determine the extent of the oil spill. The spill is already drifting east toward Japan, but winds and currents can be unpredictable. The contamination could even reach waters as far-off as Tokyo.

The most serious oil spill in history took place in 2010, and will take 60 years to recover from. The deep-sea drilling platform “Deepwater Horizon” chartered by British Petroleum Company blew-out and exploded, resulting in the contamination of nearly 9,971 square kilometers of water in the Gulf of Mexico. In a post-incident report, the U.S. government noted that a large number of mammals were killed in the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, including 6104 birds, 609 turtles and 1400 dolphins.

So how should the crude oil spill be dealt with? The United States State Oceanic Administration issued the “Characteristics of Response Strategies: A Guide for Spill Response Planning in Marine Environments” in 2010, which clarifies what response measures should be implemented after oil spills in different situations (the type of oil spill, location, way, the scale of leakage, trajectory, duration and recent weather conditions). The three most common measures are oiled, dispersant and biodegradation. Because there are still large amounts of toxic and explosive gases may be in the air, Chinese Maritime Bureau around “Sanchi” was demarcated 10 sea miles radius to avoid the navigation area. The rescue boats retreated, waiting to be rescued after the fire. China’s Ministry of Communications said 32 crew members on the “Sangqi” tanker were missing. The impact of the current follow-up has not been determined, nor is it clear that the initial control of leakage. If all the installed oil leaked, this will be the world’s tenth largest oil spill. The impact of the follow-up has not yet been determined, it is not true that oil spill in the initial control. If all the installed oil leaked, this will be the world’s tenth largest oil spill.


For further reading:

 What is Oil Spill?

 It’s Been 51 Days Since a Massive Oil Spill Off China’s Coast. There’s Still So Much We Don’t Know.

 11 Major Oil Spills Of The Maritime World

 Characteristics of Response Strategies: A Guide for Spill Response Planning in Marine Environments





Thanks for sharing !

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