China’s largest reported oil spill has spread to popular tourist beaches lining the Yellow Sea, as the size of the slick doubled on Wednesday.
The slick has reached the port of Dalian, once named China’s most liveable city, including its key tourist attractions: the Golden Pebble Beach and Bangchui Island.
The oil had spread over 165 square miles of water five days since a pipeline exploded near Dalian, cutting off oil shipments from part of China’s strategic oil reserves to the rest of the country.
Frantic efforts are being made to contain the spill but methods are reported to be basic and amount to little more than straw mats and workers with rubber gloves.
Greenpeace China released photos of inky beaches and of straw mats about 2 square meters in size scattered on the sea, meant to absorb the oil.
“We don’t have proper oil cleanup materials, so our workers are wearing rubber gloves and using chopsticks,” an official with the Jinshitan Golden Beach Administration Committee told the Beijing Youth Daily newspaper.
“This kind of inefficiency means the oil will keep coming to shore… This stretch of oil is really difficult to clean up in the short term.”
Officials, oil company workers and volunteers were turning out by the hundreds to clean blackened beaches.
One cleanup worker has drowned, his body coated in crude.
An official warned the spill posed a “severe threat” to sea life and water quality as China’s latest environmental crisis spread off the shores of Dalian.
Zhong Yu with environmental group Greenpeace China, told the Associated Press: “I’ve been to a few bays today and discovered they were almost entirely covered with dark oil.”
“The oil is half-solid and half liquid and is as sticky as asphalt,” she told The Associated Press by telephone.
State media has said no more oil is leaking into the sea, but the total amount of oil spilled is not yet clear.
Fishing in the waters around Dalian has been banned through the end of August, the state-run Xinhua News Agency reported.
“The oil spill will pose a severe threat to marine animals, and water quality, and the sea birds,” Huang Yong, deputy bureau chief for the city’s Maritime Safety Administration, told Dragon TV.
However 40 oil-skimming boats and about 800 fishing boats were also deployed to clean up. Some 15 kilometers of oil barriers had been set up to keep the slick from spreading.
China Central Television earlier reported an estimate of 1,500 tons of oil has spilled. That would amount roughly to 400,000 gallons – as compared with between 94-184 million gallons in the BP oil spill off the U.S. coast.