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Huge Oil Spill Spreads in East China Sea, Stirring Environmental Fears

Greenpeace expressed alarm about the threat to the marine ecosystem in the East China Sea, which is one of the world’s most heavily trafficked waterways, saying the disaster occurred in “an important spawning ground” for fish.

“At this time of year the area is used as wintering ground by common edible species such as hairtail, yellow croaker, chub mackerel and blue crab,” Greenpeace said. “The area is also on the migratory pathway of many marine mammals, such as humpback whale, right whale and gray whale.”

The tanker was carrying more than one million barrels of condensate, an extremely light crude oil, to South Korea when it collided with the freighter. When spilled, the condensate can produce a deep underwater plume damaging to marine life.

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Huge Oil Spill Spreads in East China Sea, Stirring Environmental Fears
Huge Oil Spill Spreads in East China Sea, Stirring Environmental Fears

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The Japanese Coast Guard said the fire on the surface of the sea was extinguished early Monday.

The Sanchi disaster appears to be the largest tanker spill since 1991, when an unexplained detonation caused the ABT tanker to leak 260,000 tons of oil off the coast of Angola.

Rick Steiner, a marine conservation specialist formerly with the University of Alaska, told The Associated Press that 60,000 to 90,000 tons was likely to have spilled into the sea, calling it “enormous” and “as large as the official estimate of the Exxon Valdez disaster” off the coast of Alaska in 1989. He also suggested that the Chinese government was likely to be understating the magnitude of the spill.

The deaths of the Sanchi crew members prompted Iran’s government to declare a day of national mourning on Monday to honor “the brave mariners who died in the course of their mission.”

Eshaq Jahangiri, Iran’s first vice president, said that efforts to recover the bodies of 29 crew members ceased when the tanker sank off the China’s coast on Sunday.

Because of the release of toxic gases in the immediate aftermath of the explosion, there was little hope that the crew members survived, but efforts to recover their bodies had continued, Mr. Jahangiri said. “Unfortunately, the ship sank and we could not access their bodies.”

Officials still don’t know the cause of the collision between the Sanchi and the CF Crystal, a Chinese freighter that was carrying grain.

Thomas Erdbrink contributed reporting.

Follow Gerry Mullany on Twitter: @gerrymullany

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