CitationDownload as .RIS
Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2007, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
22 November 2005Eider (Hong Kong)
At 0100, October 31 bulk Eider grounded on the rocky shores of Antofagasta. A large amount of diesel was discharged into the sea, along with heavy mechanical lubricant hydrocarbons. Around 7 km of coastal shore has been directly impacted by the resulting oil slick. The Chilean authorities have been preventing oil entering small bays known as “caletas”, using floating booms. Working with volunteers of the Wild Fauna Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre of the University of Antofagasta, a number of stricken seabirds and several migratory Franklin Gulls were captured, although access to the birds proved difficult. In addition at least 80 oiled Brown Pelicans, several Gray, Band-tailed and Kelp Gulls, and Red-legged and Neotropic Cormorants have been sighted, but have not been rescued. Peruvian Boobies are regularly feeding within the affected are but none have been recovered to date. Green Turtles Chelonia mydas were among the other significantly affected wildlife. Further casualties are expected. Contingency action undertaken by the Chilean Navy to date has been limited to the use of floating booms and the application of dispersant and degreaser solutions, which while reducing oil at the surface has resulted in spreading it throughout the water column
1 November 2005
A serious ecological disaster took place at dawn yesterday near Antofagasta, when bulk Eider (22792 gt, built 2004), with a Philippine crew, ran aground, generating the evacuation to the sea of a still indeterminate amount of petroleum that covered nearly a kilometre. The ship, that was retained by the authorities, carried out this emergency at dawn yesterday, for reasons to be determined by a summary investigation by the naval administrations, of the regional government of Antofagasta. For this reason, the vessel that originated the serious environmental emergency had to be towed out to sea, in front of the bay of Antofagasta, surrounded by insulating material. According to the specialists, this situation generates serious damage to the coastal sector of Antofagasta
2 November 2005
Soldiers and sailors made an effort yesterday to contain a petroleum spill that has already contaminated more than three kilometres of sea and some beaches of Antofagasta, causing the death of birds, turtles and fish. The spill was caused by bulk Eider after grounding at dawn on Monday, which broke one of its fuel tanks. The navy and the army worked arduously to restrain the contamination that continued extending by the coast of Antofagasta.
As per information gathered from the authorities, the bottom cracked and six oil tanks leaked. Local radio “Digital” reported that the spill from the vessel was more than one kilometre long. The Chilean navy, meanwhile, said investigations were under way into how the vessel came to be stuck in the pre-dawn hours, when the crew signalled that they had an emergency situation. Authorities sent tugs to move Eider away from the coast, but the vessel had already begun leaking fuel, leaving a foul-smelling black sludge that coastal residents told Digital had already resulted in the death of marine life and was inducing severe headaches and dizziness among the inhabitants. The vessel was in Chile to pick up a load of copper for delivery to Hong Kong. By late Monday, the spill from Eider was approaching the cove used as a base by Antofagasta’s fishermen. Environmentalists from the university went to the spot in hopes of rescuing some turtles known to inhabit the inlet. The ecological disaster forced the authorities to decree “alerts early”, with prohibition to bathe in beaches and to extract marine products. Navy recognized today that the hydrocarbon spill is outside control, although effective of the institution and the Army, of the regions of Tarapac and Antofagasta, they work to mitigate and to contain the effects of the ecological disaster. In addition to the sanitary problems to the population that live in the zone, the oil slick already has caused the death of fish, turtles, lapas and species of seafood and crustaceans. “It is already possible to be seen floating in the water some corpses of birds, in addition to numerous pelicans, pinginos, gulls, cormoranes and piqueros with its pens stained with petroleum,” affirmed Carlos War, of the University of Antofagasta. In agreement with the experts of the Sernapesca, the fuel could arrive at five metres depth, causing serious effects on the marine life. The State Defence Council (CDE), today initiated the presentation of all the antecedents to ask for an indemnification by the caused damages. The vessel is under preliminary repairing of the damaged plating to avoid further oil leakage for securing it and then to be moved to “dry docking yard” for final repairs
3 November 2005
Chilean legislators have called upon the government to declare the coast in the northern city of Antofagasta a catastrophe area following the oil spill by bulk Eider, which ran aground on Monday (October 31), and apparently seems out of control. “The oil spill in Antofagasta has become an ecological disaster and people are fearful of the environmental impact and consequences for the coastal fishing industry,” said Senator Carmen Frei. So far there has been no official report as to the extent and volume of the spill, but the Antofagasta press reported that a five kilometre-long trail along the coast which has reached some beaches famous for surfing can be easily seen. Senator Frei urged immediate aid for local coastal fishermen and resources to help begin clearing beaches and coves. The area is also rich in marine fauna including sea lions, sea gulls, pelicans, cormorants and turtles. When news of the accident broke, authorities sent tugs to pull the vessel away from the rocks, but the vessel had already begun leaking heavy fuel, leaving a foul-smelling black sludge, local residents reported. The vessel was in Chile to pick up a load of copper for delivery to Hong Kong. Volunteers from the Antofagasta University Environment and Biology Department managed to rescue 13 rare green turtles but there is concern about other marine birds which remain in the fuel-covered waters. Legal action has begun against the vessel’s owners and master.
20 November 2005
Ryuho Maru (Japan)Gulf of ThailandAbout 50 tons of crude oil spilled into the Gulf of Thailand from a Japan-registered vessel today, as it attempted to dispense some of its cargo at a refinery buoy, a company official said. Crude oil tanker Ryuho Maru (149362 gt, built 1999) had moored to unload oil from the Middle East but it leaked because of faulty equipment, said a refinery relations manager from Thai Oil PLC, who spoke on condition of anonymity, citing company policy. “It failed because of an equipment failure. The dock hose might have leaked,” said the manager, adding that there would be an investigation. The company has cleaned up most of the oil, using a spray to disperse the remainder, he said. The oil spill occurred off the Thai coast about 50 kilometres south-east of Bangkok.
25 November 2005
According to a news report, the Japanese crude oil tanker Ryuho Maru was (yesterday) discharging crude oil from Oman when a pipe was stated to have ruptured causing a large oil spill. It was stated that the spill was about 3 km long and contained about 100,000 litres of crude oil. The incident occurred while the crude oil was being transferred from the tanker to the Thai Oil refinery plant in Siracha District, Cholburi Province in the Gulf of Thailand. The Marine Department will be sending vessels for clean-up. It is feared that the oil slick may head for the beach resort of Pattaya in the same province.
21 November 2005
IIno Marine Service Co. Ltd, Japan, management company for crude oil tanker Ryuho Maru, dated today:
Ryuho Maru was involved in oil spill accident at 0800 hrs, November 20, in Sriracha (Thailand) during the discharge of crude oil which loaded from the Arabian Gulf. The vessel berthed at a Single Bouy Mooring with connection 2 hose to her manifold and has steadied discharge rate. The master could not find any failure of crew handling cargo, her equipments and structure. However duty crew on manifold found leakage of oil from shore floating hose and immediately stopped cargo discharge. However an amount of cargo oil leaked into sea from shore floating hose. The master and loading master supposed the cause of the leakage to be functioned of the brake away system of floating hose by unexpected external force. At the time of accident, strong winds and high waves have been recognised. The owner has now arranged for P&I Surveyors and also the attendance of marine superintendent to protect oil spillage and investigation of root cause.
24 November 2005
Crude oil from Sunday’s (November 20) oil spill near Thailand’s main aquatic playground of the eastern coast is threatening coral reefs and tourism, and suggesting that Thai Oil Public Company Limited was premature in announcing that it had contained the 20,000-litre “leak.” Oil slicks from Thai Oil’s leaking tanker delivery pipeline are endangering coral reefs around Koh Khang Khao Island off the country’s eastern Chonburi Province, home of Thailand’s most visited tourist beaches, Thai News Agency reported. Though government authorities have applied chemical dispersants to make layers of oil slicks submerge beneath the ocean surface in a bid to keep the coral reefs and marine life safe, masses of oil are coagulating on one of the tourist area’s few remaining relatively intact coral reefs. The possibility that the reefs might be in critical danger – after the company assured both the government and the public that the problem was contained – is not encouraging, said an environmental observer. The Department of Marine and Coastal Resources said the booms being used to provide a barrier could not contain the oil slicks due to strong winds on the sea surface. Chemical dispersion is the only hope now for the authorities to protect the coral reefs along the northern and eastern shores of the island. Officials from the Marine and Coastal Resources Department and the Pollution Control Department will assess the environmental impact which could affect the coral reefs and other marine life. More compensation may be demanded from the oil firm in addition to the baht five million which the Marine and Coastal Resources Department has already claimed, as the containment and clean-up costs may be much higher than originally estimated. The incident occurred on Sunday when oil was being piped to the Thai Oil refinery in Si Racha from crude oil tanker Ryuho Maru, which anchored offshore while making a standard delivery to the refinery. About 20,000 litres of oil leaked into the sea. Thai Oil, the country’s largest refinery, said it accepts full responsibility for damages, but they have had yet to be determined. The company said the oil spill would not affect its refining output of about 200,000 barrels per day.
23 November 2005Petrochemical Plant, Jilin Province, China
China confirmed today that an explosion at a petrochemical plant had caused “major pollution” of a river which has led authorities to shut off water supplies in one of its biggest cities for at least four days. Residents of Harbin, capital of far north-eastern Heilongjiang province, were jamming the airport and rail stations to get out, a witness said. China’s State Environmental Protection Administration said that the Songhua River had suffered “major water pollution” after the November 13 explosion at the plant upstream, the Xinhua news agency said. Taps were turned off in Harbin at midnight, yesterday, after two days of panic buying of bottled water and food. The explosion happened in neighbouring Jilin province only a few hundred yards from the Songhua River, which supplies water to Harbin, a metropolitan area of nine million people. Five people were killed in the blast. “Pollution is definite,” said a regional water official, who declined to give his name. “It has entered the Songhua River and has affected the banks and lower reaches.” The Beijing Times newspaper said the pollutants in the partly frozen river included benzene, an industrial solvent and component of petrol. An environmental official quoted by Xinhua said the polluted water was expected to reach the stretch of river where Harbin siphons off its drinking water this evening and clear the city by Friday (November 25) afternoon. “Several major tributaries join the Songhua River on the downstream of Harbin,” the official said. “It will help to lessen the degree of pollution.” The Songhua runs into Russia several hundred kilometres beyond Harbin. A Foreign Ministry spokesman said yesterday that China always took care of other countries’ border water interests. Prices of bottled water soared in recent days and state media said shops had been ordered to restore prices to normal to prevent panic buying. US beer-making giant Anheuser-Busch, which runs a brewery in Harbin, said it had not been affected because it uses well water. A notice on the city government web site saying supplies would resume in four days has been superseded by another saying a resumption date would be announced later. “The new notice does not necessarily mean an extension,” a Harbin government spokesman told Reuters. “But we will make a decision after four days according to the water quality at that time. There is sufficient water. Residents have all stored a lot and we have been rushing in water from other places. We also have safe underground water.”
23 November 2005
Panic was today spreading in Harbin, with officials preparing to cut off water supplies as heavily polluted river water flowed towards the Chinese city. Stockpiling began afresh at midnight when the local government switched taps on again for 12 hours after having cut off supplies to almost four million people yesterday. The temporary switch-on came after revised calculations showed the pollution would not reach Harbin until early tomorrow morning. “As the exact time of the pollutants flowing to the city’s drinking water intake spot has been confirmed, we hoped that citizens could take time to hoard as much water as possible ahead of the water cut-off,” an executive from the Harbin water company said. Residents were storing water supplies in bathtubs and buckets ahead of the expected three-day drought. Supermarkets reported panic buying of water, milk and soft drinks, while Harbin’s airport and railway station were jammed with people fleeing the area. The provincial government was also trucking in water from neighbouring areas, testing little-used local wells and demanding 1,400 tonnes of activated charcoal to purify the water intake after the pollution had passed through the city. Harbin’s authorities warned residents not to even approach the Songhua River because of the risk of pollutants escaping into the atmosphere when the polluted water hits the city around 0500 tomorrow. The 50-mile-long stretch of pollution is not expected to flow out of the city until Saturday (November 26). The city, in China’s icy north-eastern Heilongjiang Province, has a population of 3.8 million and draws most of its water from the Songhua. The river has been contaminated with more than 30 times the usual levels of benzene after an explosion at a chemical plant on its banks. The blast, in the neighbouring Jilin Province, happened on November 13, killing five people and causing 10,000 to be evacuated from the area, officials said. The state Xinhua news agency said nobody had yet been taken ill but 15 hospitals were on stand-by to deal with pollution victims. “There is sufficient water. Residents have all stored a lot and we have been rushing in water from other places. We also have safe underground water,” a government spokesman said. Water supplies were also reported to have been cut in at least one district of Songyuan city, around 90 miles southwest of Harbin, although local officials denied the reports. A doctor from the Ningjiang District Central Hospital and a teacher from Ningjiang No 1 Middle School said water had already been cut off for between five and seven days already.
24 November 2005
A huge swathe of toxic water has reached Harbin in north-eastern China after drifting down the Songhua River which is the city’s main water source. Massive amounts of the chemical benzene were released by an explosion 11 days ago at a chemical plant in Jilin. Mains water supplies remain shut off, and the authorities have warned people to stay away from the pollution. A witness in the city says Harbin seems to be well stocked with bottled water. Of particular concern is the plight of farmers and people living in between the cities who would normally use the river water for irrigation, for washing, for drinking, eating and making food. Reports today said the contaminated body of water had levels of benzene more than 30 times higher than is considered safe. China’s environmental watchdog had found levels in the river 108 times the safe limit yesterday. Authorities shut off water to Harbin, a city of more than three million people, after confirmation that the accident 11 days ago had sent pollution downstream towards the city. The authorities are also digging new wells to augment supplies. Neighbouring Russia was urgently seeking information from China on the spill as officials predicted it would take two days to pass through Harbin. A state of emergency will take effect in Russia’s eastern Khabarovsk region tomorrow, amid fears of possible contamination of the Amur river, officials from the emergency ministry said. The contamination follows an explosion on November 13 at a chemical plant at Jilin city, about 380 km upstream from Harbin, on the Songhua River. Some schools and businesses have closed and flights out of Harbin are sold out. “Everyone wants to leave Harbin and it is very difficult to buy tickets,” a factory manager said. Water was restored to the city briefly yesterday to allow people to stock up before the contaminated water reached Harbin. More than 16,000 tonnes of drinking water is being brought into Harbin by road, the Chinese state news agency Xinhua said, though this is less than Harbin’s residents normally use in a day. Fifteen hospitals have been placed on stand-by to cope with possible poisoning victims. The initial announcement of water stoppages led to panic-buying of water and food in Harbin, exhausting supermarket supplies and sending prices soaring. “The city was full of ridiculously large queues. People were buying water in massive quantities,” English teacher Craig Hutchinson said.
25 November 2005
A blast at a Chinese plant 12 days ago sent the equivalent of ten tanker-loads of toxic chemicals into the Songhua river, Chinese state media report. About 100 tonnes of lethal substances entered the Songhua as a result of the blast in Jilin, and the leak is now passing through the city of Harbin. All taps are off in Harbin but the water supply may be restored on Sunday (November 27) after being shut down for three days. Harbin’s 3.8m residents are undergoing their third day without water. An 80 km contaminated stretch of water reached Harbin at about 0300 hrs yesterday and was expected to take 40 hours to pass. Levels of the chemical benzene are ten times higher than considered safe. There is plenty of bottled water, wells are being dug and supplies are being driven in, but one local paper says some people have been trying to steal water to fuel their heating systems. Another reports that inhabitants were still fishing, despite the threat to their health. Officials are hoping the poisonous chemicals will dissipate as they flow down the river towards Russia. The toxic leak is now expected to reach the Russian border in about two weeks. China’s biggest oil company, which owns the chemical plant upriver in Jilin where the explosion occurred 12 days ago, has apologised. Zeng Yukang, deputy general manager of China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC), expressed “sympathy and deep apologies” to the people of Harbin. Chinese state officials blamed CNPC for the contamination and defended the government’s handling of the emergency. Zhang Lijun, of the environmental protection administration, said no decision had yet been made about whether to sue the company.
26 November 2005
A surge of toxic chemicals pouring down the river through a north-eastern Chinese city was expected to have passed through by early tomorrow morning, bringing respite from a water crisis that has plagued residents. As the nine million people in Harbin suffered a fourth day without running water, soldiers and workers raced to ensure the city’s water would be safe to drink when taps were turned back on, installing new filters at treatment plants, state media said. The pipe network was shut down on Tuesday evening (November 22) to protect Harbin residents from up to 100 tonnes of cancer-causing benzene compounds spilt into the Songhua River from which Harbin pumps its water. An explosion at a chemical plant upstream triggered the release of the toxins. The spill could affect hundreds of thousands more people in China alone as it heads downstream and then crosses into Russia, although officials say the concentration of toxins will fall as other tributaries join the river, the China Daily reported. Benzene levels in Harbin were down to 2.3 times officially acceptable levels today compared to 30 times yesterday morning, the city government website said. However, the passage of the 80 km slick, flowing at around 2 kph, has been slowed by low water levels and lumps of ice that have already formed on the freezing water. Late yesterday, teams used picks and crowbars to break up the ice. Harbin city officials told local newspapers they had prepared a plan to restore tap water to residents but urged caution. “Don’t immediately drink the water,” says the plan, which calls on residents to be alert to any unusual odour or colours in the water. State television said some water would start flowing again in the early hours of Monday morning.
27 November 2005
Mains water supplies in the Chinese city of Harbin have resumed five days after they were cut due to a toxic chemical spill. Provincial governor Zhang Zuoji took the first drink after supplies were reconnected, Xinhua news agency said. An 80 km stretch of contaminated water passed through the city of 3.8m people after 100 tonnes of benzene spilled into the Songhua river. The contaminated water is due to reach Russian cities downstream in two weeks. Beijing has begun an inquiry into the spill caused by an explosion at a petrochemical factory on November 13. Inspections yesterday evening revealed that water quality in the Songhua river upstream of Harbin had returned to national standards, Xinhua reported. The restoration of supplies at 1800 today came five hours earlier than expected. However correspondents pointed out it was not immediately clear whether this would continue or whether it was for the whole city. Guidance on how safe it is to drink the water is to be available locally over the next few days. TV stations will use a traffic light-style system to inform residents about water quality. A red indicator will mean the water is unusable, yellow that it is suitable for bathing only, and green that the supply is fit for drinking. To quicken the clean-up, water was discharged into the Songhua from nearby reservoirs to dilute the spill while the army installed new filters at Harbin’s water plants. Tests showed levels of nitrobenzene in the river, Harbin’s main source of water, had dropped below the official safety limit. The toxic leak passed Harbin early this morning, said Lin Qiang, a spokesman for the provincial environmental protection bureau. As it flows downstream, it is likely to contaminate Russia’s Amur river, which feeds water to more than 500,000 residents of the Khabarovsk region. In Khabarovsk, residents have been urged not to panic while the authorities plan to limit the damage from the approaching spill. As soon as the presence of benzene is detected, a state of emergency will be introduced in Khabarovsk, Russian TV said. Cold and hot water supplies will be cut off for at least 40 hours and schools, childcare organisations and restaurants will close.
29 November 2005
Thousands of children returned to school in Harbin today a week after a toxic spill in a river obliged officials to cut tap water to the Chinese city. It now threatens supplies for more than a million Russians downstream. An explosion at a chemical plant in the north-eastern province of Jilin on November 13 poured 100 tonnes of cancer-causing benzene compounds into the Songhua river people. Officials turned off the taps in Harbin before the 80 km slick arrived. It has since cleared the city but will arrive at a major city in Russia’s far east within days. Water supplies returned to Harbin, capital of Heilongjiang province, on Sunday (November 27) after five days. The city’s 400,000 primary and secondary school students went back to their classes today after a week-long break with many bringing bottled water from home, state media said. Last weekend China apologised to Russia for the river water crisis. It has now agreed to provide monitoring equipment to its neighbour and help train Russian personnel as the toxic slick nears the Siberian border, the Chinese State Environmental Protection Administration said on its web site. “The governments of both countries do not wish for this incident to bring any harm to Sino-Russia relations,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao told reporters. “Both sides will continue to make efforts and strengthen cooperation to minimise possible harm caused by the pollution,” Liu said, adding that the two countries had not discussed the issue of compensation. China welcomed assistance from international organisations, he said without elaborating. Russia’s environmental watchdog said yesterday the toxic slick could reach the first Russian settlements in the next two to three days. The Emergencies Ministry said it could start affecting the major Siberian city of Khabarovsk by December 10-12. Russian television footage showed shop staff unloading bottled water supplies while scientists pushed aside lumps of ice to test the Amur river, which is fed by the Songhua. More than one million people could be affected. Although officials say the slick should be less toxic by the time it crosses into Russia, chief state epidemiologist Gennady Onishchenko has noted that the dangerous compounds would have been diluted faster had the river been in full flow rather than half-frozen. Russia is airlifting 50 tonnes of carbon for use in water treatment plants along the Amur, Russian media were quoted as saying. Benzene poisoning causes anaemia, other blood disorders and kidney and liver damage. In Bayan county in suburban Harbin, tests showed the level of nitro-benzene in the water at 0.1994 milligrams per litre, 10.73 times acceptable levels, the environment administration said.
30 November 2005
Another town on a poisoned Chinese river shut down its water system today after Communist Party members went door-to-door giving out bottled water in an effort to show that China’s leaders can protect the public from the latest environmental disaster. Running water to about 26,000 people in Dalianhe, on the outskirts of the northeastern city of Yilan, stopped at 1800 hrs as a slick of toxic benzene on the Songhua River approached, said an employee at the county government offices. “It will last three days,” said the employee. The government said Yilan itself should not be affected because the city of about 110,000 people gets its water from wells instead of the river. The benzene arrived a day after Harbin, a major industrial centre upstream, declared its water safe to drink after the system supplying 3.8 million people was shut down for five days. The spill caused by a deadly November 13 chemical plant explosion has embarrassed President Hu Jintao’s government, which has promised to clean up the environment and do more to help ordinary Chinese. In Yilan, television broadcast hours of reports Wednesday on the water shutdown, including a government statement warning the public not to use river water. The show of openness contrasted sharply with complaints that officials upstream tried to hide the chemical spill and initially lied about the reason for shutting down Harbin’s water. News reports showed police and party members in red armbands going door-to-door in freezing weather, handing out leaflets and giving cases of drinking water to the elderly and poor. The 50-mile-long slick is making its way towards Russia and is expected to reach the major border city of Khabarovsk on December 10-12. The Songhua flows into the Heilong River, which becomes the Amur in Russia and runs through Khabarovsk, one of the largest cities in the sparsely populated Far East. Residents have scooped up bottled water in stores, leaving many shops with only carbonated water. People in the city already are stocking up on water at homes, filling bathtubs and any container they can find. In Yilan, the government notice promised to “safeguard market and social stability” – a warning to merchants not to raise prices for bottled water. “Both the county government and residents have stored enough water for at least five days,” said another employee of the county government headquarters. He said the county had dug five wells and would be distributing water by truck. Yilan closed riverfront parks to keep the public away from the poison-laced water. The city lies at the intersection of the Songhua and Mudan Rivers, a famous scenic spot. Experts say the damage is likely to be long-lasting but the full effects will not be known until at least early next year with the thaw of river ice believed to contain benzene. “The benzene will remain in the ice until spring, and the situation will be dragged out,” said Ilya Mitasov, a Moscow-based spokesman for the World Wide Fund for Nature. He told a Moscow news conference that a higher than normal level of benzene had been detected in the river, but it was not determined “whether it’s ours or Chinese.” The river could take ten years or more to flush out pollutants absorbed by mud and micro-organisms, said Zhang Qingxiang, an environmental expert at Shanghai’s East China University of Science and Technology.
10 December 2005
Pollution from a toxic slick in a north-eastern Chinese river has declined sharply in density as authorities worked to ensure a safe water supply to a city of more than three million, state media said today. Environment officials said the slick, now flowing through Heilingjiang province’s second largest city of Jiamusi, would be further diluted when the Songhua River met with the Heilongjiang on its way toward the Russian border, Xinhua news agency reported. State television said the water already met Russian drinking water standards. China’s environment chief Zhou Shengxian urged continued vigilance by local officials to ensure residents had safe drinking water. “We should also start appraising the impact of the pollutants on the ecosystem and work to minimise such impact,” Xinhua quoted Zhou as saying. Zhou replaced Xie Zhenhua who resigned in early December because the State Environmental Protection Administration had failed to address the crisis, sparked by a chemical explosion in Jilin which poured 100 tonnes of cancer-causing benzene into the Songhua on November 13. The spill, initially covered up by local officials, led to the shutdown of water supplies to millions of people downstream, including the city of Harbin, which saw its water supply severed for five days in November, and sparked concern downstream in Russia. Xinhua quoted local environment officials as saying the density of the slick would continue to fall after it arrived at the downstream city of Tongjiang, where the Songhua River joins the Heilongjiang River, which flows into Russia. The decline was revealed in measurements taken at monitoring posts along the Songhua early on Saturday, Xinhua said. As of 8 a.m., the maximum benzene density at Jiamusi measured 0.173 mg per litre and later fell to 0.162 mg per litre.
16 December 2005
A toxic slick that threatened the water supply of several large Chinese cities along the Songhua river has reached Russian territory. Russia’s Emergencies Minister, Sergei Shoigu, says the slick has flowed into a river that forms a barrier between the two countries. “The water polluted with benzene today reached the Russian border and has flowed into the Amur river,” he said in the city of Khabarovsk. However, initial tests by Russian experts show the slick, which contains benzene and nitrobenzene, is not as highly concentrated as had been feared. It is continuing to dilute. Mr Shoigu says the authorities are prepared to ensure safe drinking supplies, regardless. “Water reserves and carbon (filters) have been set up. Artesian wells have been reopened,” he said. Widespread contamination prevention efforts have been under way in China and Russia since an explosion on November 13 at a PetroChina chemical factory in the north-east Chinese province of Jilin. The accident led to the spillage of 100 tonnes of carcinogens into the Songhua River, one of China’s longest waterways and a source of water for millions of people. Chinese media also reported that the slick had significantly diluted ahead of entering Russia.
21 December 2005
Authorities in Khabarovsk in Russia’s Far East cut off water to its 10,000 people today as a toxic slick from a chemical plant explosion in China floated downriver. By evening, pipes began to pump water once again to the homes of people in three southern districts of the city, with full supplies expected to resume by tomorrow morning. But a top regional environmental official warned the 580,000 residents not to drink tap water because of the contamination from the Chinese accident last month. Regional officials said that tests conducted in the Amur River, which flows past the city and provides it with all its water supplies, so far had not detected chemicals above permissible levels. But residents of the three districts woke to find notices posted outside their apartment blocks with a list of hazardous chemicals that could be in the water supply and their effects. The notice warned them not to try to siphon hot water from their centrally heated radiators. An official with the regional branch of the Emergency Situations Ministry, Sergei Gorchkov, said that water supplies to this area had begun to resume at 2000, local time. The spill was about 20 miles up the Amur from city limits, and it was unclear when exactly it would arrive, Sergei Levkov, a regional administration spokesman, said. The pollutant slick, measuring 110 miles long, was expected to take up to four days or more to pass through Khabarovsk. Gorchkov said the decision to restore water was taken after Chinese workers labouring around the clock finally managed to complete a dam across a waterway in a bid to prevent the toxins from reaching three water treatment facilities that service the south of the city. The November 13 chemical plant explosion dumped 100 tons of toxins into north-eastern China’s Songhua River, disrupting water supplies to millions of Chinese and straining relations with neighbouring Russia.
27 November 2005Athos I (Cyprus)
Time may have hidden the scars left by the heavy oil that spilled from crude oil tanker Athos I into the Delaware River last year, but government and conservation groups say tons of submerged oil and plenty of sticky questions linger. “You can still see it out there if you go out and dig a little,” said Penns Grove, NJ, resident Philip Hocknell, who has a home along the river. The spill from the vessel ranks as the worst on the Delaware since a tanker reform law cleared Congress in 1990, and the fourth-worst since 1972. Investigators have blamed a submerged anchor for poking two holes in the vessel, releasing 264,355 gallons of Venezuelan crude oil just as the vessel was approaching an asphalt-oil refinery. Traces of the thousands of gallons of un-recovered tarry crude could trickle up from the water for generations. “We’re not going to really know the full ramifications for a long time, and we may never know,” said Maya K. van Rossum, who directs the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, a multi-state conservation group. “There are going to be sub-lethal, toxic effects to the wildlife and the river for a long time. In terms of wildlife, it will perhaps contribute to weakened immune systems or impact the ability to reproduce, or may contribute to deformities,” van Rossum said. Coast Guard officials earlier this week called an end to active clean-up work along most of the river, winding up an effort that cost more than $175 million and employed as many as 1,800 workers while still leaving most of the oil in the river. Prevailing winds forced most of the oil onto New Jersey’s side, Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control Secretary John A. Hughes said this week. Some oil did taint shorelines and wildlife in Pennsylvania and Delaware, disrupting fishing and waterfowl hunting and frustrating some conservation group members. “We didn’t have very high natural resource damage here,” Hughes said. “We do have some impacts.” Tsakos Shipping and Trading of Athens, owner of Athos I, reported making a proper approach to a Citgo refinery dock, following established shipping channels at night during the lowest tide of the month. The company paid $124 million of the clean-up cost, well above its $45.5 million legal limit, and has reported that it wants to recover the money from parties responsible for the accident. The shipping company earlier this month closed the book on the vessel by selling it to interests in the United Arab Emirates for an undisclosed sum.
14 December 2005KTC 55 (USA)
K-Sea Transportation tank barge KTC 55 (3113 gt, built 1972) spilled about 6,500 gallons of diesel fuel into the Hudson River last week, the Coast Guard said yesterday. The barge leaked low-sulphur diesel fuel as it was being pushed upriver Thursday (December 8) by tug Baltic Sea on a daylong trip from Staten Island to an Exxon Mobil terminal at the Port of Albany, Coast Guard spokesman Dan Bender said. “There was a sheen everywhere,” said John Lipscomb, master of the R. Ian Fletcher, the boat of Riverkeeper, an environmental group based in Tarrytown. Lipscomb first saw the rainbow sheen near Saugerties at about 1600 hrs. He noted the sheen again about seven miles south in Kingston an hour later. A small crack or hole that has yet to be identified is believed to be the source of the trickling leak, Bender said. Shortly after the barge arrived in Albany at about 2130 hrs, the crew noticed “diesel oil bubbling up along the side of the barge on the port side,” Bender said. Crew members then reported the spill to a national hot line, and a test showed one of the barge’s chambers had lost about 6,500 gallons in transit, Bender said. K-Sea Transportation spokesman Mike Hanson confirmed much of the Coast Guard’s account, but didn’t have other comments prepared in time for this report. Environmental damage from the spill should be “minimal,” Bender said, because the fuel trickled out over the course of a day and more than 140 miles. “When (the Department of Environmental Conservation) and Coast Guard responded, no sheen was detected, so it’s believed the amount of diesel fuel spilled was dispersed, primarily due to the weather conditions, so no remediation was necessary,” December spokeswoman Gabrielle Done said.
15 December 2005Prestige (Bahamas)
More than three years after crude oil tanker Prestige sank off the coast of Spain, previously unheard audio evidence has emerged this week that sheds new light on the first hours of the casualty. A leaked tape of a conversation between two senior officials of the Spanish maritime administration suggests that the decision to send the crippled Prestige out to sea was taken without technical advice less than three hours after the ship had initially radioed for help. The tape was obtained by the leftist party Izquierda Unida and was subsequently leaked to Cadena Ser, a leading national radio station in Spain. In it, Jose Luis Lopez Sors, the then director-general of Spain’s Merchant Marine Directorate, can be heard speaking to Pedro Sanchez, head of the national maritime rescue centre. According to the radio station and its sister daily newspaper, El Pais, the conversation took place between 1640 hrs and 1725 hrs on the afternoon of November 13, 2002. Prestige had issued a Mayday at about 1515 hrs that same afternoon. In the tape, Mr Lopez Sors can be heard discussing the unfolding situation with Mr Sanchez. At one point, the then maritime chief tells Mr Sanchez that the intention was to take the ship under tow away from the coast until it sank. They can also be heard discussing the depth of the sea in the area of the casualty and the environmental implications of the ship sinking in shallower waters. While the Spanish authorities have always defended their decision to order the ship out to sea, they have also maintained that it was taken after consultation with a crisis committee made up of maritime and oil spill experts. Spain’s decision was widely condemned within the maritime industry, where the view, in many cases backed by technical analyses, was that the ship could have been saved had it been brought into a place of refuge. The existence of the tape was unknown until this week, even to the judges who have investigated the casualty for the past three years. Questions are now being asked as to whether there is any other official evidence that has yet to come to light. The tape has also reopened old political divisions over Prestige. This week, Izquierda Unida said it would call on senior figures in the right-wing Popular Party, which was in government at the time of the casualty, to appear before the Spanish parliament to answer questions about the tape. Yesterday, however, the Popular Party’s parliamentary spokesman, Eduardo Zaplana, insisted the tapes were the same ones that had already been submitted to the court in Corcubion, adding that it was “ridiculous” for them to be dragged up once again
9 December 2005Selendang Ayu (Malaysia)
A year after bulk Selendang Ayu wrecked off an Aleutian island, split in two and caused the worst Alaska oil spill since the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster, damages and costs are still being tallied, government and shipping officials said. The spill occurred off the sprawling Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge in an area important for commercial fishing, seabirds and wildlife. Refuge Manager Greg Siekaniec said federal biologists are trying to estimate overall environment damages from the spill. That estimate will be translated into a dollar figure to be used as a basis for a possible civil fine or settlement, he said. There were more than 1,600 dead oiled birds collected in the wake of the spill, as well as a handful of oiled sea otters, he said. “We know if you pick up 1,600 birds, there’s going to be more. The question is how much more,” Siekaniec said. Leslie Pearson, director of the department’s prevention and emergency response programme, said beach clean-up will resume next summer because not all the necessary work was completed in the past summer. The state is also working on a plan to have the owner remove the wrecked vessel, she said. On-site work cannot be done in the winter, when daylight is scarce and fierce storms are common, she said. Over the winter, officials expect storms to move the vessel’s severed halves and continue to leak some of the oil that has been clinging to the inside, she said. “We know that there’s residual oil left in the stern, and what we’re going to see is that residual oil get released,” she said. Environmentalists this week said too little has been done to improve safety of the so-called “Great Circle” route between North America and Asia, a route that uses a narrow passage through the Aleutian Islands. About 3,000 large ships use the route each year, they said, and the number is expected to grow, they said. Improvements promised after last year’s wreck, such as an area-wide risk assessment, ship-tracking systems and dedicated, high-power rescue tugs, have yet to materialize, they said. The Shipping Safety Partnership recommends that the Selendang Ayu’s owner settle state and federal natural resource claims for $200 million, and pay an additional $50 million for dedicated rescue tugs. A spokesman for the Selendang Ayu’s operator said the company and the shipping industry as a whole are working to improve cargo vessel safety. “It’s a constant, evolutionary effort,” said Jim Lawrence, a spokesman for Singapore-based IMC Shipping. One company change put into effect immediately was a policy mandating full survival suits for crew members instead of the small life vests worn by the drowned seamen, he noted.
20 December 2005Anl Pioneer (Germany)
A Melbourne magistrate has been asked to consider fining a German shipping company almost Aus$1 million for an oil spill at Phillip Island, in what would be the state’s biggest environmental fine. Reederi Suderelbe GMBH & Co. Schiffahrts KG (RSS), as the owner of c.c. ANL Pioneer, has pleaded guilty to three charges relating to the incident in February 2003. The vessel’s master Erhard Heinz Schuschan, 60, of Germany, has pleaded guilty to one charge of being master of the ship when a discharge of oil or oily mixture occurred in Bass Strait. The two defendants, who are not present in court, have agreed to a statement of fact that was read to magistrate Frank Jones by Environment Protection Authority prosecutor Paul Willee, QC. Mr Willee told the court the defendants had been knowingly sailing the ship with leaking oil tanks and structural problems in Australian waters. On February 27, 2003 the ship left Melbourne for Sydney, and the discharge was first noticed at Cape Woolamai on Phillip Island. The court heard the discharge affected about 12 km of coastline. The cleanup cost close to Aus$600,000.
16 December 2005Erika (Malta)
A new French judicial report into the loss of the non specific tanker Erika has highlighted the failure of the ship’s manager and classification society to detect and deal with the advanced structural corrosion from which it said the vessel was suffering immediately before its break-up and sinking six years ago this week. The report claims that the real level of corrosion at the time of the Erika’s sinking on December 12, 1999, contradicted measurements taken in the course of its five-year survey a little over a year earlier. The structures of the vessel’s ballast tanks were corroded to an extent “well beyond corrosions acceptable to a classification society”, it said. “In summary, the fate of Erika was virtually sealed as soon as it was confronted for a long period to very severe sea conditions.” And it claims that a document detailing steel thickness measurements taken in 1998, which was communicated by Erika’s manager, Panship, to its classification society, Rina, appears to have been falsified. According to the authors of the report, the document was used to reduce the quantities of steel plate to be replaced on Erika from 220 tonnes to 34.5 tonnes, cutting the cost of the operation from $500,000 to $157,000. “This situation cannot be the result of simple material errors,” they say. The new report was produced by experts appointed by the court of commerce in Dunkirk, Erika’s last port of call before its break-up and sinking off the southern coast of Brittany. Rina declined to comment yesterday on the allegation that data on the structural state of Erika had been falsified. But it drew attention to the fact that the report’s findings conflicted with those of another one produced for the examining magistrate carrying out a separate investigation into the disaster in Paris. This latter report highlights the responsibility of Erika’s charterer, the Total oil group, in the loss of the ship and the ensuing pollution disaster, arguing that it had had effective control of the ship. A Rina spokesman also noted that the report carried out for the Dunkirk court of commerce had been conducted at the request of the oil group, which had also financed it. “We do not want to comment directly on the report,” he said. “These are matters for the court to handle.” He added, however, that the company was confident that the court would find it had not been guilty of wrongdoing on the basis of the investigations the company had carried out on its own account and with the help of independent parties. “We think we are in a good position,” he said. “We are sure that the court will take into account our report with the others and we will continue to cooperate in the investigations as we have until now.” Panship, which indicated soon after the accident that it had no ships on its books as a result of its involvement with Erika, proved impossible to contact yesterday. Details of the report carried out for the Dunkirk court of commerce have emerged as examining magistrate Dominique de Talance prepares formally to close her investigation into the Erika disaster. She announced this week that she expected to be able to complete work on the case by the end of January, opening up the possibility that a trial could open before the end of next year.
21 December 2005Bei River, Guangdong Province, China
A toxic spill in southern China is threatening water supplies to millions of people, state media have said. The spill was caused by excessive discharge of cadmium from a state-owned smelter in the city of Shaoguan into the Bei River in Guangdong province, they said. In the city of 500,000 people, water was shut off for most of yesterday, residents said. Downstream, people were warned not to drink tap water. Cadmium levels in the river are currently ten times above safety levels. The city of Yingde was on high alert following the spill at the smelter in Shaoguan, some 90 km upstream, China’s Xinhua news agency said. Officials lowered a dam gate to block the spill from entering Yingde which has a population of about 100,000. Residents were now being warned not to drink tap water and supplies were being brought in by road, it said. The toxic stretch of water is expected to arrive in two or three days’ time. Local television said earlier that the smelter had been ordered to stop discharging water from Sunday (December 18). Cadmium is a chemical used in protective plating. It can cause liver and kidney damage and lead to bone diseases. Compounds containing cadmium are also carcinogenic.
19 December 2005MSC Elena (Panama)
MSC Ship Management (Hong Kong) Limited has agreed to plead guilty to charges that it engaged in conspiracy, obstruction of justice, destruction of evidence, false statements and violated the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships, the Department of Justice announced today. Per the terms of a plea agreement that must be approved by the court, MSC Ship Management will pay $10.5 million in penalties. This is the largest fine in which a single vessel has been charged with deliberate pollution and the largest criminal fine paid by a defendant in an environmental case in Massachusetts history. According to the plea agreement, including a joint factual statement, MSC Ship Management will plead guilty to a criminal information which charges that a specially fitted steel pipe, referred to as the “magic pipe,” was used on c.c. MSC Elena to circumvent required ship pollution prevention equipment and discharge oil sludge and oil contaminated waste directly overboard. Upon the discovery of this bypass equipment during a US Coast Guard inspection in Boston Harbour on May 16, 2005, senior company officials in Hong Kong directed crew members to lie to the Coast Guard. Additionally, senior ship engineers ordered that documents be destroyed and concealed. “This is the largest fine involving deliberate pollution from a single ship in a long series of similar prosecutions that have been brought as part of a vessel pollution initiative,” said Sue Ellen Wooldridge, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “Deliberate vessel pollution is a serious and persistent problem which we will prosecute to the full extent of the law.” “Residents of Massachusetts and particularly those along the Buzzards Bay coastline have experienced first-hand the devastation to the environment that can result from accidental oil spills. However, there was nothing accidental about this case,” said Michael Sullivan, US attorney for the District of Massachusetts. “The defendant knowingly violated antipollution laws, intentionally dumping oil-contaminated waste directly into the ocean and even went so far as to manufacture a so-called ‘magic pipe’ to accomplish the crime. Our hope is that this substantial $10 million fine will send a strong message to those in the maritime community who would try to circumvent our Nation’s anti-pollution laws.” MSC Ship Management discharged approximately 40 tons or approximately 10,640 gallons of sludge during a five-month period in 2004 through a three-piece bypass pipe manufactured on the vessel. An even larger volume of oil-contaminated bilge waste was also discharged with a rubber hose and portable pump. The MSC Elena made regular voyages from ports in Europe across the Atlantic to ports in the USA, including Boston. Under the terms of the plea agreement, MSC Ship Management has agreed to plead guilty to charges that it made false statements to the Coast Guard denying knowledge about the existence and use of the bypass equipment; obstructed justice by directing subordinates to lie to the Coast Guard; concealed evidence; and concealed oil pollution in a falsified Oil Record Book – a required log in which all overboard discharges must be recorded. MSC Ship Management has also agreed to plead guilty to charges that in response to a Coast Guard inspection, senior ship engineers directed that an “alarm” printout from the vessel’s computer and a log containing actual tank volumes be concealed in an effort to cover up the falsification of records. Coast Guard inspectors were presented with fictitious logs containing false entries claiming the use of the Oil Water Separator and omitting any reference to dumping overboard using the bypass equipment. “The Coast Guard is committed to the protection of the marine environment in Massachusetts, in New England, and throughout the United States. To accomplish this goal, the Coast Guard ensures that vessel owners and operators comply with the law and are truthful with our inspectors,” said Rear Admiral David P. Pekoske, commander, First Coast Guard District. “This defendant’s crimes, and especially management’s direct involvement, undermines our entire regulatory system for the protection of the environment. This successful prosecution and the severe penalties associated with it should send a message that intentional pollution and lying to the Coast Guard will not be tolerated.” Additionally, under the terms of the plea agreement, MSC Ship Management will be on probation for five years, during which time it must operate under the terms of a government-approved Environmental Compliance Plan. The plan includes review by an independent auditor of any of MSC Ship Management’s 81 vessels, including the MSC Elena, that trade in the USA, and a review of those audits by a court-appointed monitor. If the plea agreement is approved by the court, MSC Ship Management will pay a $10 million criminal fine, and an additional $500,000 to support community service projects. The projects will be administered by the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation to fund non-profit organizations that provide environmental education to seafarers visiting or sailing from Massachusetts ports, including how to report environmental crimes to the US Coast Guard. Engine-room operations on-board large ocean-going vessels such as the MSC Elena generate large amounts of waste oil and oil contaminated bilge waste. International and US law prohibit the discharge of waste containing more than 15 parts per million oil and without treatment by an Oil Water Separator and oil sensing equipment, a required pollution prevention device. The Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships also requires that all overboard discharges be recorded in an Oil Record Book, which is subject to inspection by the Coast Guard. The waste oil may be incinerated on board the ship or offloaded in port for proper disposal. In two related prosecutions, the chief engineer of the MSC Elena, Mani Singh, was indicted in November and has agreed to plead guilty at a hearing scheduled for Dec. 20. Aman Mahana, the ship’s second engineer, pleaded guilty on December 1. Sentencing for Singh and Mahana will take place early next year. This investigation was conducted by the Northeast Regional Office of the US Coast Guard Investigative Service, with assistance from the US Coast Guard Sector Boston; US Coast Guard First District Legal Office; US Coast Guard Office of International and Maritime Law; US Coast Guard Headquarters Office of Investigations and Analysis; and US Coast Guard Office of Compliance. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant US Attorney Jonathan F. Mitchell in the District of Massachusetts’ Economic Crimes Unit, Special Assistant US Attorney Luke M. Reid of the US Coast Guard, and Senior Trial Attorney Richard A. Udell and Trial Attorney Malinda R. Lawrence of the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section.