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Sanchi Oil Spill Drifts toward Japan

Clumps of oil have washed up on the shores of southern Japan and there are fears they may be leaking from an Iranian crude tanker that sank in the world’s worst such disaster in decades, the Japanese Coast Guard said on Friday.

The clumps washed up on the shores of the island of Amami-Oshima.

Amami-Oshima is part of a chain of islands that includes Okinawa, an area famous for pristine beaches and reef systems. The Iranian tanker sank nearly three weeks ago, raising worries about damage to the marine ecosystem.

The vessel capsized some 530 km from Shanghai and 310 km from Naha, Japan, following a collision and a number of explosion aboard the ship.

At the time of the incident, Sanchi was carrying 136,000 metric tons of ultra-light, highly flammable condensate. Chinese maritime authorities earlier said they detected four oil slicks at the site of the Sanchi wreck encompassing a total of 101 square miles.

The government of Japan established a special unit to monitor the oil spill in an effort to determine the exact cause and the extent. Relevant authorities launched clean up operations in the affected areas.

A recent ocean model simulation research from University of Southampton and National Oceanography Centre (NOC) estimated that oil spilled from Sanchi could reach Japan by mid-February. In addition to the Amami Oshima area, the coastlines of northern and southern Kyushu as well as waters off Shikoku and off Yamaguchi and Shimane prefectures, faced varying degrees of risk from it.

“However, the fate of the leaking oil is highly uncertain, as it may burn, evaporate, or mix into the surface ocean and contaminate the environment for an extended duration,” NOC said.

The bodies of two sailors were recovered from the ship while a third body was pulled from the sea near the vessel. The remaining 29 crew of the ship are presumed dead.

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