Crews start clean-up of oil spill in Yellow Sea

Clean-up has started in an effort to contain an oil spill in the Yellow Sea near the Chinese port city of Qingdao. The collision occurred in thick fog between a bulk vessel and a tanker carrying around a million barrels of bitumen mix.

Media has reported that the anchored oil tanker A Symphony (Goodwood Ship Management) was hit by general cargo ship Sea Justice. The tanker’s hull is said to be breached portside in the ballast tank area, but considering her almost two-week anchorage, the expectation is that some of her bitumen-blend cargo would have already been offloaded.

A preliminary study estimates about 500 tonnes (3,420 barrels) of oil have been spilled but this needs to be assessed further, a Shandong Maritime Safety Administration official, who declined to be identified, told Reuters.

‘The force of the impact on the forward port side caused a breach in cargo tanks and ballast tanks, with a quantity of oil lost into the ocean,’ says Goodwood Ship Management in a statement, adding ‘all of the crew had been accounted for and there were no injuries.’

Heavy fog, which has hampered navigation off the Qingdao coast since Monday, led to poor visibility at the time of the collision, according to Goodwood.

‘Immediately after the collision occurred, the master initiated emergency procedures onboard, mobilising the vessel’s oil spill response team and initiating an internal transfer to limit the loss of product,’ Goodwood says.

The Shandong official says 12 vessels have been dispatched to deal with the accident and cleanup but did not say whether the leak had been contained.

The two ships were in a stable condition, there were no casualties and a probe into the accident is under way.

Bitumen mix, a blend of heavy crude oil and residue, is used by China’s independent refiners as an alternative refining feedstock. It is used for road surfacing and roofing.

The Shandong official said samples of the oil have been sent to a laboratory as it tried to assess the type of oil.

“The first thing to focus (on) is to stop the leaking…if this is normal crude oil it will float and there are relatively effective measures to contain its spread and recover the spilled materials,” says Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public & Environmental Affairs, according to Reuters.

But heavier oil may sink if not recovered quickly.

“In that case it will be more difficult to collect and could create more serious and lasting pollution.”

Run Cheng International Resource (HK) Co says it is the owner of the 150,000-tonne cargo of bitumen blend on board the A Symphony.

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