THICKER THAN WATER PHOTOGRAPHY JIANG He & ArtHUr J D TEXT Leo HSU
On July 16 2010, the day after BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico was ﬁnally capped, an oil transfer pipe at Dalian’s Xingang port, on the north-east coast of China, exploded as a Liberian tanker ship was ofﬂoading high-sulphur crude to a depot. The result was a series of explosions, a 15-hour ﬁre, the release of tonnes of oil into the Yellow Sea over an area of 430 sq km, and as yet unestimated ecological damage. Clean-up efforts involved both oil-skimming boats and ﬁshing boats, oil-eating bacteria and felt and straw mats. The oil, said one Greenpeace observer, was “half solid, half liquid… as sticky as asphalt”. Fireﬁghters Zhang Liang and Han Xiaoxong, working from a ﬁshing boat in swimming trunks, repeatedly entered the water to keep a ﬂoating water pump clear of debris. Trapped by the thick oil on the surface, both began to sink. By the time ﬁreﬁghter Zheng Zhanhong reached Han, the 25-year-old Zhang had completely submerged. Thirty thousand people lined the streets for his funeral. While initial ofﬁcial estimates placed the spill at 1,500 tonnes – over 450,000 gallons – Richard Steiner, an oil spill expert invited by Greenpeace to make an independent assessment, said the spill was likely closer to 60,000 tonnes, while Greenpeace believes it to be even more. The Chinese government celebrated the rapid cleanup of the spill, a recovery paid for in part by the life of Zhang Liang. And while China’s second largest crude oil depot has returned to normal operations, the aftermath of the incident continues to impact the local ﬁshing industry, with long-term consequences as yet unknown.
Absorbent mats used in the cleanup process