China Sea: a massive pollution to the Sânchî condensate

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China Sea, a life-size ecological catastrophe off Shanghai. The Iranian oil tanker Sânchî (accident on 6 January 2018), which carried 136 000 tonnes of condensate, ultra-light hydrocarbons whose impact on the ecosystem is more difficult to measure, sank on 14 January of the current year in the East China Sea After burning for a week following a collision with a freighter about 300 kilometers east of Shanghai. The fact that the boat sank in any case aggravates the risk of an environmental catastrophe. Thirty-two sailors, including 30 Iranians and two Bangladisundian, died in the catastrophe.

A calamity that has tripled in size in the space of four days, now covering more than 300 km2, according to figures of the Chinese Government. This progression could now extend to the potentially endangered South Korean and Japanese coasts.

Satellite imagery on Sunday, 21 January, detected three oil spills totalling 332 km2, said the national oceans administration. This body had reported, four days before, an oil spill of 101 km2. The oil spill is moving northwards due to winds and sea currents, had announced last week the Oceanic Administration, potentially threatening the South Korean and Japanese coasts and can sustainably poison the seabed very rich in long-term fish.

The Sânchî now lies 115 meters deep. The amount of pollutants still present in the boat is not known. In addition to its cargo, it contained, about 1 000 tons of heavy diesel to run its machines

The condensate contained therein is of a particularly volatile type and one of the least toxic in its category, which "the spectrum is wide enough" can result in dreaded air pollution (a white tide).

Specialists have stated that this hydrocarbon has characteristics close to a very light gasoline. It is not very soluble and very evaporating. Nevertheless, its toxicity is very real. This is obviously not harmless since it was noted that its vapors were the cause of the death of the crew, because indeed among the 32 crew members perished, only three charbed bodies were found by the firefighters.

In addition, the oil tanker has failed in one of the most fishy areas of China, the Zhou Shan Chinese authorities and experts especially dread the consequences on biodiversity. In addition, this accident occurs while the waters of the Chinese sea are already suffering from pollution due to significant maritime traffic in the region and over-fishing. By burning and evaporating, if it does not pollute in depth, this condensate will cause first of all a very large air pollution so, important consequences on the birds. On the surface, plankton may be very polluted, which will have a direct impact on fish that will undoubtedly migrate to other waters while the affected area is considered the most important for the reproduction of certain species of fish, crustaceans and calamari, according to Greenpeace. It is also found on the passage of many migratory cetaceans such as the grey whale or humpback whale. This may lead to a certain blockage in the Chinese economy, but this consequence is somewhat minimized due to the volatile nature of the condensate.

To this end, a Chinese engineer from the national oceans administration, Zhang Yong, wanted to confidently assert. This is light crude, and this type of oil spill has far less consequences, compared to other black tides, because this kind of petroleum is especially volatile. Most of it has gone into the atmosphere, so there are fewer consequences for the ocean.

As for the 1 000 tons of crude fuel, they could soon hit the South Korean and Japanese coasts depending on the winds and tides. "A mini-oil spill"; says Christophe Rousseau, compared to the 30 000 tonnes discharged by the Érika off Brittany in 1999. Technically, according to him, it is impossible to talk about the oil spill with the condensate, the term designating only a massive pollution by hydrocarbons.

Greenpeace also pointed out that the product would be toxic as long as it would not be diluted enough to be biodegraded; which should however be quick due to its lightness.

"In the longer term, the real question for China is to get to clean up this horribly polluted environment," says Richard Steiner.

Aminata NDIAYE (Intern)/VivAfrik

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