Oil Spill Off China’s Coast Sparking Fears Of A Potential Environmental Disaster

An oil spill off the coast of China has steadily been growing since 6 January 2018, and has now reportedly grown to be the size of Paris. This is sparking fears of a potential environmental disaster, due to the possible effects of the spill on both birdlife and marine life in the area, that can potentially have consequential implications for decades to come.

The spill was caused when an Iranian tanker headed towards South Korea – carrying 136,000 tonnes of condensate, a light form of crude oil – crashed into a freighter on 7 January 2018, causing an explosion that is believed to have killed all 30 crew members on board, and sent one million barrels of condensate, along with the tanker’s own fuel supply, into the ocean. The tanker immediately exploded and set the oil on the water’s surface on fire, which burned for an entire week.

The oil slick, in the East China Sea, had grown to cover 58 square kilometres in one week, before spreading into four separate slicks, that covered a combined 101 square kilometres – an area the size of Paris – by 17 January. Five days later it had tripled in size, and now covers an estimated 332 square kilometres. However, much of this oil slick is likely to be the tanker’s own fuel supply. Due to condensate oil’s higher solubility in water, much of it is likely lost to the ocean, and in the right conditions, it may also rise to the surface and evaporate. However, it is still toxic to marine life, which has environmentalists considerably concerned.

The area surrounding the spill is reportedly a throughway for a number of marine animals, is home to many fish species, and is also a major fishing area for China, which can potentially impact the country’s seafood industry if the oil spreads to these areas. While this spill is not the world’s largest crude oil spill, it is estimated to be the largest condensate spill.

Oil spills are damaging for the environment, oceans, coastal beaches, marine life, birdlife, and fisheries – and in particular, communities that are heavily reliant on the fishing industry. Ultimately, the gravity and impact of this most recent spill may never be fully known. As a result, it is crucial for multilateral institutions, as well as the international community more broadly, to ensure that proper measures and regulations on oil and its transportation are being taken to avoid similar incidents in the future.

Ashika Manu