07/22/2010, 00.00
CHINA
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Dalian, oil in the Yellow Sea: an ecological and social disaster

Covering over 430 acres of sea, coastline submerged by a semi-solid layer of slick up to 20 cm high. Beaches closed, fishing stopped, fish farms destroyed. Controversy over the lack of effective action and the attempt to hide the damage.

Beijing (AsiaNews / Agencies) – The amount of crude oil that spilled into the sea following the July 16th explosion at Dalian port is far greater that previously acknowledged by authorities. After having said for days that everything is under control, China has acknowledged that oil has reached the tourist beaches which have been closed.

Huang Yong, Dalian deputy of the Maritime Safety Administration of China, admitted yesterday on a local television station that "the dispersion of oil will pose a serious threat to marine animals, water quality and aquatic birds."

Fishing has been prohibited in the area until the end of August but already experts say it will take much longer and that the damage to aquatic life can not yet be calculated. Also because there is no certainty about the quantity of crude oil that was released into the sea, initially the quantity was thought to top 1,500 tons. The flourishing fish farms in the area, famed in Japan , have been badly affected by the black slick.

The admission on television shows the seriousness of the situation.  For days after the explosion, state media repeated that everything was under control and that the spill would be cleared up in a matter of days. Experts and environmentalists say it was "irresponsible" to cover the exact magnitude of a disaster that affects the livelihood of the entire area.

The black slick yesterday covered 430 km square of the Yellow Sea and continues to expand, despite the dedication of hundreds of soldiers and residents to contain it. But there is also  controversy over the clean up: the newspaper Youth Daily reports the anger of an official, protesting the lack of the basic tools to scoop up the oil, "so our workers wear rubber gloves and use sticks" to immerse pieces of fabric to absorb it (see photo). "This inefficiency - he continues - means that oil will reach the coast ... This stretch of oil is very difficult to clean quickly". 23 tons of toxic microorganisms that turn crude oil into less harmful substances have been released. Fireman Zhang Liang fell into the sea 2 days ago and died from the oil, but the authorities have only admitted it today after he was denounced by Greenpeace China (GC).

GC activist Zhong Yu, visited some bays of the area and found them "almost entirely covered with dark oil. "The crude oil is semisolid and half liquid and is as sticky as asphalt”, a layer up to 20 cm tall. In the beginning the authorities denied that the oil slick threatened the coast.  

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