The biggest oil spill since the founding of the People's Republic of China began on Tuesday when two containerships collided in the South China Sea near the mouth of the Pearl River on Tuesday.
One of the ships, the German-registered MSC Ilona, sustained damage to an oil storage area and began leaking heavily.
The Guangzhou Daily reported that by Thursday morning, some 450 tons of oil had spilled into the water, creating a slick 17 kilometers long and ranging in width from 20 to 200 meters. It was situated about 15 kilometers from shore.
The leakage had been stopped by Thursday, while cleanup ships had contained the spread and were using absorbent material to blot the oil from the sea.
Neither ship is in danger of sinking nor were any injuries reported.
No reports were issued on the condition of wildlife in the area.
The white sea dolphin, one of the most endangered marine creatures in the world, inhabits the shallow coastal waters of the South China Sea in the area around the Pearl River estuary. The dolphins -- sometimes known as the "giant pandas of the sea" -- are a National Class 1 protected species in China.
According to the Nanfang Daily, the area is also home to more than 70 varieties of coral and 300 species of fish. An array of birds lives or winters in the nearby estuary, including herons and several varieties of spoonbills. Some of these are also endangered or threatened species.
According to the Ministry of Communications (MOC), which is responsible for shipping transportation in China, the Panamanian-registered Hyundai Advance was proceeding from Shenzhen to Singapore and the Ilona was bound from Shenzhen to Shanghai when they collided at 9:35 PM.
The MOC has appointed a team headed by Vice Minister Xu Zuyuan to monitor cleanup and recovery operations. The group urged local departments to do their best to prevent the spill from extending further.
Additional cleanup ships have been dispatched from Guangzhou and Shanghai and are expected to arrive on Thursday or Friday.
Officials say that there is little likelihood that the oil will significantly damage the shoreline, as a brisk northeasterly wind is expected to blow it out to sea.
(China.org.cn December 9, 2004)