Oil from the sunk tanker MV Sanchi may have reached the coast of Japan, according to news reports late last week, with the Victoria, B.C.-based Dogwood Initiative arguing that the tragedy at sea “lays bare the true risk Kinder Morgan poses to British Columbia”.
The Iranian-owned Sanchi caught fire in the East China Sea and sank in mid-January, killing 32 crew members and spilling about a million barrels (136,000 tonnes) of ultra-light crude oil condensate and nearly 1,900 tonnes of heavier bunker fuel oil. Now, “residents on the Japanese Amami-Oshima islands, famed for pristine beaches and reefs, have reported black oil clumps being washed up,” Oil Change International states, citing a Reuters news dispatch.
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“It is unknown if the ultra-light condensate could form black oily clumps, or if indeed this is even the heavier bunker oil,” writes Oil Change Contributing Editor Andy Rowell. “But if the oil has come from the Sanchi, then this would be a serious setback for Japanese authorities, who said last month that there was little chance the spill would reach the county’s shores.”
If the oil is from the Sanchi, “the speed of the spill will also alarm authorities and scientists alike, as it has reached Japan faster than the models predicted,” Rowell adds.
Earlier in the week, Rowell wrote the Sanchi spill had already caused “serious ecological injury” and “could potentially be one of the worst tanker spills in decades,” even though it had largely disappeared from news headlines.
“Work by scientists from the National Oceanography Centre (NOC) and the University of Southampton, who have plotted where the condensate ends up, believe that the spill could even reach Japan within a month,” Rowell stated at the time. “In doing so, it could severely impact locally important reefs, fishing grounds, and protected marine areas,” reach the Greater Tokyo Area within two months, and sweep into the deeper ocean waters of the North Pacific.
“The revised simulations suggest that pollution from the spill may be distributed much further and faster than previously thought, and that larger areas of the coast may be impacted,” the Southampton modelers reported.
Another concern is the high toxicity of the condensate that was the Sanchi’s main cargo. “It’s not like crude, which does break down under natural microbial action,” said Southampton’s Simon Boxall. “This stuff actually kills the microbes that break the oil down.”
“This is charting new ground, unfortunately,” agreed global oil spill expert Rick Steiner, a former professor at the University of Anchorage. “This is probably one of the most unique spills ever.”
He added that the Sanchi spill is “a very big deal. There has been serious ecological injury.”
In a commentary immediately after the sinking, Dogwood’s Dave Mills connected the dots between the Sanchi and the increase in coastal tanker traffic that will result if Houston-based Kinder Morgan completes its pipeline from Alberta to B.C.
With the Sanchi, “British Columbians got a firsthand look at just how easy it is to sink an oil tanker,” Mills wrote. “What you won’t hear is this: The fiery sinking of the MV Sanchi and the complete loss of its entire cargo is far more likely than not to happen on B.C.’s coast if this project is built.”