Authorities are working around the clock to clean up oil from a stricken oil tanker in China.
Experts have warned the Iranian oil tanker that sank off the coast of China could affect marine life for decades.
Two bodies have been recovered. The remaining 29 crew are still missing and presumed dead.
The Sanchi fell to the ocean floor Sunday, eight ays after it collided with a Hog-Kong registered cargo ship. Strong winds have now pushed it away from the coast of China and into Japan’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
China’s State Oceanic Administration said several oil slicks have already been found, including one nearly 15 kilometers long (9.3 miles) and another covering an area of 58 square kilometers (22.4 square miles).
The Japan Coast Guard said oil had spread over an area 13 km (8.1 miles) long and 11 km (6.8 miles) wide, although it said the slick was shrinking as patrol boats battled to contain it.
The Coast Guard said the fire on the sea surface was put out at around 0200 GMT on Monday, although according to other authorities and Chinese state TV CCTV black smoke continued to billow from the site of the sinking for several more hours.
A clean-up effort has begun and rescue teams have called a halt to the large-scale search for survivors, reducing it to “normal” operations, CCTV said.
This marks the biggest tanker spill since 1991, when 260,000 tonnes of oil leaked off the Angolan coast.
The East China Sea is known for its rich, although already polluted, marine ecosystem that includes whales, porpoises and seabirds, said Rick Steiner, a U.S. marine scientist with experience of oil spills.
The blazing vessel, which had been carrying 136,000 tonnes – almost one million barrels – of condensate, an ultra-light, highly flammable crude oil, sank on Sunday after several explosions weakened the hull.
The Shanghai Maritime Bureau, under China’s Ministry of Transport, said shortly before 0800 GMT on Monday there was no more heavy smoke at the scene.
Japanese authorities lost track of the tanker as of 0840 GMT on Sunday, a spokesman for Japan’s Coast Guard said. The ship’s last confirmed location was about 315 km (195 miles) west of Sokkozaki on the island of Amami Oshima, one of the northern islands in the Ryukyu island chain that includes Okinawa.
Japan sent two patrol boats and an airplane to the area to search for missing crew members and assess the latest situation, the Coast Guard spokesman said.
The Shanghai Maritime Bureau said these, along with a South Korean patrol boat, were among the vessels carrying out emergency response work on Monday.
A Chinese salvage team on Saturday recovered two bodies from the tanker, China’s state news agency Xinhua reported. Another body, presumed to be one of the Sanchi’s sailors, was found on Jan. 8 and taken to Shanghai for identification.
The salvage team recovered the Sanchi’s voyage data recorder, or “black box” from the bridge of the tanker, Xinhua said on Saturday. But the team was forced to leave the ship after just half an hour because the wind shifted and “thick toxic smoke” had complicated the operation.
Experts worry the ship’s sinking is potentially more damaging to the marine ecosystem than letting the oil burn off. The sinking will likely expel the remaining condensate and the tanker’s bunker fuel, or the heavy fuel oil that powers a ship’s engines, contaminating the surrounding waters.
Bunker fuel is the dirtiest kind of oil, extremely toxic when spilled, though less explosive. Condensate is poisonous to marine organisms.
Fuel oil is relatively easy to contain because volumes are lower and its viscosity means it is easier to extract from water, but even small volumes can harm marine life.