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Oil Spill on the East China Sea Turning to Major Ecological Disaster

A major oil spill from an Iranian tanker that sank in the East China Sea is rapidly spreading and posing unprecedented ecological threats to the sea and maritime life, reported the New York Times.

The Sanchi, the Iranian tanker that carried 1million barrels containing 136,000 tons of oil mix, or condensate, collided with another cargo ship on Jan 6. The Sanchi exploded after burning for a week, and all 32 crew members are declared dead or missing. According to Per Alex Hunt, a technical manager who helps with oil spills across the world, this is the most serious condensate spill the world has ever seen.

 (Source: South China Morning Post)

(Source: South China Morning Post)

The spill is making an impending and disastrous impact on the environment. Unlike heavy crude, condensate doesn’t accumulate in shimmering slicks on the water’s surface, nor does it sink to the ocean floor over time, which makes it very hard to monitor and contain. Additionally, the substance is highly flammable, and although it would evaporate or dissolve into the water surface after burning, some of its chemical components continue to exist for weeks or even months.

 Flames envelop the Sanchi oil tanker on Jan 13. (Source: China Daily via Reuters)

Flames envelop the Sanchi oil tanker on Jan 13. (Source: China Daily via Reuters)

According to experts, the exact chemical composition of the condensate has not yet been made public, and it is nearly impossible to measure how much condensate has dissolved into the sea, which makes the damage of the spill extremely hard to quantify.

“Working out the impact is actually a huge task — probably next to impossible,” said Paul Johnston, a scientist at Greenpeace Research Laboratories at the University of Exeter in England.

The condensate has almost certainly begun to threaten some of the most important fishing grounds in Asia, from China to Japan and beyond. Millions of fish could have already been contaminated by condensate, becoming unhealthy to humans and even potentially fatal. The Guardian noted that consumers in Japan, China and South Korea need to be wary of buying seafood until governments in the region have monitored and released details about the spill.

 (Source: South China Morning Post)

(Source: South China Morning Post)

The oil spill has given rise to anxiety in Zhoushan, China where the Yangtze River flows into the East China Sea. The city owns one of the world’s most bountiful fisheries which produced five million tons of seafood last year. Concerns among fishers and wholesalers there are generally expressed in low profile so as to not offend the government, according to New York Times.