On 2nd January, 1997 the Nakhodka broke up in heavy seas,
about 55 nautical miles off the north coast of Japan,
spilling some 6,000 tonnes of its fuel oil cargo.
The stern section sank with an estimated 10,000 tonnes of cargo onboard,
whereas the upturned bow section continued to drift towards the coast leaking oil at a slow rate.
Five days later it stranded on rocks 200 metres from the shore,
resulting in a substantial quantity of oil being released
and causing heavy contamination of the adjacent coast.
A proportion of the oil that was lost when the ship broke up dispersed naturally at sea.
Efforts to collect oil in the open sea were greatly hampered by severe winter weather and sea conditions,
and by the wide distribution and fragmentation of the oil.
As a result it proved impossible to prevent or reduce shoreline pollution to any significant extent
and several hundreds of tonnes of highly persistent water-in-oil emulsion
eventually stranded on the Japanese coastline at various locations over a distance of more than 1,000 km.
The length of contamination was exceptional compared to the relatively small quantity of pollutant
and this posed great problems for the authorities.
Nevertheless, shoreline clean-up was effectively organised, primarily using manual methods.
Around 10,000 people were involved, and most of the oil stranded on the shoreline was removed by mid-February.
Despite the wide geographical extent of the spill,
the income of traditional fishermen was only marginally affected.
The most important reason for this is the widespread practice of involving the fishing community
in the nearshore and shoreline clean-up operation,
thereby securing an alternative source of income
during the critical period when fishing activity was prevented by the presence of oil.