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China pollution

China’s undersea robots find hole in leaking tanker but next move unclear

Undersea robots have found the hole ripped open in the Sanchi but what to do next remains unclear

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 23 January, 2018, 8:04am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 January, 2018, 2:57pm

Recovery teams continue to search for a way to stop an Iranian tanker from spewing oil off China’s east coast as the size of the slick continues to grow, a source in Shanghai’s port authority says. 

The spill from the Sanchi has more than trebled in size, just over a week after the ship sank in a ball of flames and threatened to unleash an environmental catas­trophe. Authorities have spotted three oil slicks with a total surface area of 332 sq km (128 square miles), compared to 101 sq km reported on Wednesday, according to the State Oceanic Administration.

Undersea robots sent to inspect the wreckage over the weekend have located the point of impact – a triangle-shaped hole stretching 35 metres, the Transport Ministry said. 

Contamination from Iranian tanker spill could get much worse, China says

But authorities remained uncertain over how best to tackle the source of the leak, the port authority source said.  

Bad weather was expected to hamper the clean-up effort, with a cold front predicted to create waves up to 3.5 metres high. 

The Sanchi was carrying 136,000 tonnes of light crude oil from Iran when it collided with Hong Kong-registered bulk freighter the CF Crystal on January 6. The ensuing fire burned for more than a week before the vessel finally sank amid a massive blast. The bodies of only three of the ship’s 30 Iranian and two Bangladeshi crew members have been found.  

The State Oceanic Administration said three coastguard vessels were on the scene on Sunday. 

It said authorities would continue to assess the impact of the spill on the marine environment and promised to continue to update the public.  

Professor Gong Yongjun, a specialist in maritime rescue operations at Dalian Maritime University, said both the size of the spill and the type of oil made the clean-up difficult.

Oil slicks are usually treated with dispersal agents or collection machines, but large spills posed a greater challenge. 

“The spill will spread with ocean currents and the wind. It will take a very long time and be very difficult to treat,” Gong said.

Meanwhile, Pang Sen, Chinese ambassador to Iran, told reporters in Tehran on Sunday that 11 Chinese vessels were still carrying out rescue operations on seven locations identified by Iran.

He denied reports that Japanese vessels were barred from the operation, saying five coastguard ships had taken part over two days.

“China keeps an open mind to rescue operation and welcomes all international efforts in the rescue,” Pang was quoted by China Central Television as saying.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse