Tanker Sanchi on fire near the coast of Shanghai: what are the environmental threats and what can be done to mitigate them?

  • 10 Jan 2018
  • Marianna

Last week Iranian oil tanker Sanchi collided with another ship off the coast of Shanghai. The tanker was carrying around 1 million barrels of ultra-light crude condensate, a type of oil that condenses into liquid after its extraction. Three days after the collision, Sanchi went up in flames and started leaking oil into the East China Sea. There are no signs of survival of the crew.

Rescue operations are underway, but weather conditions and the brutality of the fire are making it difficult for rescue ships to reach the tanker. The aim of the operation is to contain the flames and prevent the tanker from exploding and sinking.

The extent of the damage is difficult to fully assess at the moment, however if Sanchi were to explode and sink, the environmental impacts will be close to catastrophic.

Experts say in case of explosion, the tanker will cause the death of any surface animals, fish, and invertebrates, as well as contaminate shorelines. An explosion is the worst outcome of this crisis as it will also make the cleaning process much harder and would increase the spread of toxic fumes, potentially creating respiratory problems to near populations.

Events like oil spills have the potential to generate catastrophic damages to animals, nature, and people. So, we took a closer look at how these types of crisis can be contained and the measures that rescuers take to protect the environment and people.

In case of an oil spill, experts four different ways to respond:

  • ‘Leave the oil alone’ so that it breaks down by natural means – sun, wind, currents and waves will make the oil evaporate and dissolve into the water.  
  • Contain the spill using booms and collect the oil from the surface of the water with skimmers.
  • Use dispersants - chemical agents which help the break up of oil slick into small droplets which dilute in water.
  • Introduce biological agents to the spill to ease biodegradation.

China has sent three cleaning ships to try to contain the oil spill. It’s a race against time at the moment and we are all hoping for the rescuers to succeed in their mission. Do you have experience in the oil and gas industry? Have you ever witnessed an oil spill? Share your comments and experience with us!

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About the author

Marianna Pallini

Communications Executive, The BCI