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Collision off east China coast raises concerns over environmental damage
 
Smoke is seen from the Panama-registered Sanchi tanker carrying Iranian oil, which went ablaze after a collision with a Chinese freight ship in the East China Sea, in this January 9, 2018 handout picture released by China's Ministry of Transport January 10, 2018. China's Ministry of Transport. Photo: Reuters 
 
Fire has been raging for a fifth day since an Iranian oil tanker collided with a Chinese bulk freighter off China’s east coast on Saturday evening, according to the latest update on the website of China’s Transport Ministry (MOT) on Thursday (Beijing Time). 
 
Rescue crews were forced to retreat from the stricken Iranian oil tanker in the East China Sea on Wednesday following an explosion on the ship.
 
The blast happened on board the tanker in the afternoon after rescue crews were dousing the ship with foam in an attempt to put out the fire, according to MOT.
 
The Panama-registered oil tanker Sanchi, run by Iran’s top oil shipping operator, National Iranian Tanker Co, collided with the CF Crystal registered in Hong Kong, carrying grain from the United States, about 160 nautical miles (300 km) off China’s coast near Shanghai.
 
The Sanchi was carrying 136,000 tonnes of condensate, equivalent to about 1 million barrels and worth some $60 million.
 
The Chinese government said late on Tuesday it had not found a “large-scale” oil leak, and the condensate was burning off or evaporating so quickly that it would leave little residue - less than 1 percent - within five hours of a spill. That reduces the chances of a crude-style oil slick.
 
But in an interview with the sino-us.com, Greenpeace, a non-governmental environmental organization, said so far it is unclear how much condensate has leaked to the sea, making it difficult to evaluate the potential environmental risk that could be triggered. If the leak is “too large”, it could cause “damage to important creatures in this area, such as mackerel and croaker.”
 
Greenpeace said the condensate is a highly flammable ultra-light crude, and evaporates quickly into the air, but it may not get on fish and birds. 
 
Containing toxic element like hydrogen sulfide and mercaptan, condensate can pollute the air once evaporates, and can decompose into other toxic matters like nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide which is harmful to human body. 
 
According to Greenpeace, condensate can also dissolve into water, and pollute the water before it is “fully diluted through natural process”. The damage can happen really quickly, Greenpeace said.
 
“What is more important is that once the tanker sinks before the condensate is fully burned off, the condensate may keep leaking under water, which will make the clean-up more complex,” Greenpeace said. 
 
The Zhoushan fishing ground where the collision occurred is known as one of the biggest in the East China Sea, particularly for mackerel and croaker, according to Greenpeace. In 2016, the catch from the East China Sea was 5.18 million tons, making it China’s largest fishing ground. 
 
The 274-meter-long oil tanker Sanchi was traveling from Iran to South Korea, according to MOT, while the 225-meter bulk freighter CF CRYSTAL carried 64,000 tonnes of grain was traveling from the United States to Guangdong, China. The Chinese freighter was partly damaged. 
 
The body of a crew member on Sanchi was found on Monday in the water near the tanker, while the 31 remaining crew, who are all Iranian nationals except for two Bangladeshi citizens, are still missing, Reuters reported on January 10. 
 
All 21 crew members on the bulk freighter - all Chinese nationals - have been rescued, according to MOT.
 
Chinese maritime authorities have dispatched eight vessels, including three specialized cleansing vessels, for search and rescue. After coordination by the China Maritime Search and Rescue Center, South Korea dispatched a coast guard ship and a fixed-wing aircraft to assist in the search and rescue, Xinhua reported on January 8.

 


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