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.