China Says Sanchi May Be Leaking Bunker Fuel

Bunker fuel may now be leaking from the Iranian oil tanker that sank in the East China Sea last Sunday, China's State Oceanic Administration said, underlining fears for contamination from the world's worst oil ship disaster in decades.

In a statement issued late on Thursday, SOA said several previously unreported slicks were spotted by planes, vessels and satellites near the disaster site, Reuters reported.

SOA said one, seen 2.5 kilometers east of the wreck site around 6 a.m. local time on Thursday, may indicate leakage of extremely toxic bunker fuel, the heavy oil used in ship engines.

It remain unclear how much bunker fuel was left aboard the tanker, the Sanchi, when it sank. Experts estimated it may have been carrying about 1,000 tons at the time it collided with the CF Crystal grain freighter.

Bunker fuel is noxious to marine organisms and difficult to remove from the sea once spilled, unlike the condensate fuel—an extremely light form of oil—that was being shipped by Sanchi at the time of the collision.

The tanker was carrying 136,000 tons of condensate before the accident, most of which evaporated after the stricken shipped burned for days. SOA said it will continue to carrying out monitoring and environmental impact assessment works.

Three slicks covering a combined area of 20.7 square km were spotted by satellite, with the largest in size 17.4 square km, SOA said in its statement.

That combined area was 80.3 square km smaller than the total reported a day earlier. But water samples taken at four of the total 22 spill sites detected so far were found to exceed petroleum substance standards.

The crew members of Sanchi, including 30 Iranians and 2 Bangladeshis, were confirmed dead after Sanchi sank on Sunday. Three bodies were recovered over the week and just hours before the Sanchi sank to the ocean floor. Environmentalists and officials are worried the oil on board and fuel used to power the massive vessel could harm aquatic life for decades.

"The critical thing is to understand that when we put hydrocarbons into the oceans through events like this, it's going to affect a wide range of animals," said Jessica Meeuwig, a professor of biological sciences at the University of Western Australia.


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