Oil Spill Spreading in East China Sea 'Now the Size of Paris'

Officials are calling it "the worst oil spill disaster in decades" and comparing it to a tanker spill in 1991, when 260,000 tonnes of oil leaked off the East African coast of Angola.

Three bodies were recovered from the Sanchi, while another 29 missing crew members were presumed dead.

Now the oil spilled in the collision, an ultra light type of crude oil used to make products like jet fuel, has spread to cover 39 square miles (101 square km), or roughly the size of Paris, of the East China Sea.

The slick covers an area of 101 square kilometers (39 square miles), after nearly doubling in size from the start of the week, according to figures released Wednesday by the Chinese State Oceanic Administration. No burning was seen on sea surface from a marine surveillance plane at about 1 p.m. Monday and the oil spill could be easily seen from the air. The cargo amounted to almost one million barrels (bbl) of oil.

The tanker had burned for a week before exploding after colliding with another ship on January 6, with all 32 crew now presumed dead or missing.

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Japan's coast guard said Thursday a patrol ship and plane examined the oil spill and found that it was spreading 30 kilometres east and eight kilometres northwest from the wreck, with a maximum width of 800 metres. However, citing China's State Oceanic Administration, Reuters reports that satellite imagery has revealed two slicks of a combined 42 square miles. According to Greenpeace, the area is also right in the migratory path of the humpback whale.

Richard Steiner, an Alaska-based oil spill consultant, called on the Chinese government to conduct a survey of the sunken vessel as soon as possible, citing concerns about the possibility of continued leakage. The ships caught fire and, powered by the nearly 150,000 tons of crude aboard the Sanchi, this inferno raged for over a week before the tanker finally sank.

A salvage team located the wreck, which was at a depth of 115 metres (377 feet) under sea level, and plan to prepare to send underwater robots to explore it. Among other measures, they hope divers will be able to pump out much of the condensate before they have a chance to leak onto the seabed.

The paper added that "millions of fish are likely to have been contaminated by carcinogens".