DYLAN RAMOS WRITES – In early January, a tanker carrying 32 people and nearly a million barrels of condensate — an ultra-light, highly flammable oil — was struck by a Chinese bulk freighter east of Shanghai.

The freighter, Sanchi, caught fire and burned for nearly a week as it floated into Japan’s exclusive economic zone, eventually sinking on January 14. Three bodies have been recovered, and missing crew members are presumed dead.

While strong winds and ocean currents are constantly changing dispersal estimates, officials have declared this the worst oil spill in decades. Scientists warn that this type of light petroleum has never been spilled in such massive quantities before. Richard Steiner, a marine scientist and oil spill consultant based in Alaska, has been quoted alongside other scientists across English-language news regarding the danger of the spill, recommending that surrounding fisheries cease operations until more fish are tested for contamination.

Considering the potentially devastating impact of the incident on sensitive marine life and key (though depleting) fishing grounds for China, Japan, and South Korea, it appears East Asian media outlets are not all that interested in sounding the alarm.

Miguel Quintana, a Tokyo-based freelance journalist interviewed by The Current, says there has been little to no local news coverage in Japan of the potential dangers. A quick internet search will show little reporting by the major Yomiuri or Mainichi Shimbun newspapers. Also, reports from the Asahi and Japan Times have been sparse, save for earlier, smaller spill estimates and a an article about an anonymous official in the country’s environmental ministry who claimed the spill would not reach Japanese shores.

To be fair, initial reports hadn’t even noticed a leak, but days later it was measured as covering 4 square kilometers, then 10, then 58, and by mid-January, the amount of oil spilled covered 101 square kilometers—about the size of Paris.

There are still a lot of unknowns at play: the fire burned off an unknown amount of condensate, and another unknown amount is dissolving in the Pacific.

There is also the question of if and how the dangerous chemicals will move up the food chain.

While East Asia remained vague on the issue, countries in Europe were quick to report on the news. Britain’s National Oceanography Centre stated “that waters polluted by the sinking Sanchi oil tanker could reach Japan within a month … revised simulations suggest that pollution from the spill may be distributed much further and faster than previously thought, and that larger areas of the coast may be impacted.”

On January 20, NHK World reported that the Japanese Coast Guard and Chinese transport, agriculture, and oceanic officials are dealing with the incident, but the oil spill had once again doubled in size by this time. Despite the spill at that point reaching 200 square kilometers and spreading, the Japanese media still had not issued local warnings, only mentions of potential environmental damage.

The Korea Times published an article on the threat to seafood supplies, noting the possible contamination of fisheries around Jeju Island, but the headline stands out from the rest of the region’s coverage of the spill.

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