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Firefighting boats work to put on a blaze on the oil tanker Sanchi in the East China Sea off the eastern coast of China in this Jan. 10 photo provided by China’s Ministry of Transport.

Oil from the stricken Iranian oil tanker Sanchi, which exploded and sank in the East China Sea in January, may have now reached the shores of Japan, officials said.

Residents on the Japanese Amami-Oshima islands, known for pristine beaches and reefs, have reported black oil clumps washing ashore.

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Officials are now checking to find out whether the oil is from the Iranian registered tanker, which was carrying an estimated 136,000 metric tons of condensate when it sank in mid-January, with the loss of all 32 members of the crew. It also had nearly 1,900 metric tons of bunker fuel oil on board.

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It is unknown if the ultra light condensate could form black oily clumps or if indeed this is even the heavier bunker oil. But if the oil has come from the Sanchi, then this would be a serious setback for Japanese authorities, who said last month that there was little chance the spill would reach the county’s shores.

This optimism, however, was contradicted by scientists from the National Oceanography Centre (NOC) and the University of Southampton in the UK. They plotted the path of the spill and believed it could reach Japanese shores “within a month.”

If this is indeed condensate from the Sanchi, then the speed of the spill will also alarm authorities and scientists alike, as it has reached Japan faster than the models predicted.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Transport said Thursday at a press conference that more than 225 square nautical miles of affected waters “had been restored.”

The Chinese Ministry of Agriculture also said from over 100 marine samples, “no abnormalities” had been found so far, and they would keep on monitoring. A 30 nautical mile exclusion zone remains around the site of the accident with fishing prohibited.

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