Sanchi oil spill unlikely to hit Japan

Japanese authorities do not think it likely that the significant oil spill from sunken Iranian tanker Sanchi will reach Japanese shores, a minister from the country’s environment ministry said on Tuesday January 16th.

Sanchi sank on Sunday in the East China Sea, eight days after igniting following a collision with bulk carrier CF Crystal. After the collision the adrift and burning tanker moved slowly away from the Chinese coast and into the Japanese economic zone.

Sanchi sank after several explosions weakened the hull. “From the area where the tanker sank, a sea current is heading to the north, limiting the chances of the oil slick reaching Japanese coasts,” the Japanese environment ministry official said.

The Japan Coast Guard said on Tuesday that it was monitoring the oil slick carefully in case weather conditions changed the direction of the oil spill.

Rick Steiner, a marine conservation specialist formerly with the University of Alaska, told The Associated Press that 60,000 to 90,000 tons was likely to have spilled into the sea. He called it an “enormous” estimate and “as large as the official estimate of the Exxon Valdez disaster” off the coast of Alaska in 1989. He also suggested that the Chinese government was likely to be understating the magnitude of the spill.

However, of major concern to experts is that the Sanchi will probably now expel the remaining condensate and the tanker’s bunker fuel. There was far less bunker fuel on board, possibly only 1,000 tons, but it is the dirtiest kind of oil, and extremely toxic when spilled.