Condensate from tanker sinking riding the Kuroshio Current into Japanese fisheries

Leaked natural gas condensate from the Iranian-owned tanker Sanchi is floating up Japan’s coast.

En route from to South Korea, the Sanchi collided with a Chinese cargo ship in the East China Sea on 6 January. The Sanchi caught fire and sank eight days later with all hands lost.

On 3 February, an oil-like substance washed ashore on Takarajima, near the larger island of Amami Oshima, south of Kyushu. It is expected the spill will be quickly spread to the northeast by the strong Kuroshio Current. Computer models had previously estimated the spill could take from 20 to 30 days to reach Amami Oshima, so the rapid movement caused researchers to update their estimates.

Scientists at the University of Southhampton’s National Oceanography Center in the United Kingdom estimated that, in addition to the Amami Oshima area, the coastlines of Kyushu and Shikoku, as well as the prefectures of Yamaguchi and Shimane, were at risk. 

While the volume of the spill – about 960,000 barrels – is alarming, the light condensate is likely to do most of its harm in the area of the actual spill, rather than on beaches, as with heavy crude oil. Condensate rapidly evaporates and instead of floating at the surface, mixes with seawater. So, it should become diluted and less harmful as it moves further from the site of the sinking.

Models by China’s State Oceanic Administration models indicate that the path of the spill will likely overlap with Japanese sardine and anchovy fisheries, but the model does not predict whether the concentrations will be enough to harm the fish or make them less edible.


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