Dramatic pictures show a daring rescue of a Chinese firefighter who had become exhausted trying to swim through a gooey oil slick. The man got overwhelmed by the crude while attempting to fix an underwater pump as part of a clean up operation from last week's oil pipeline explosion at Dalian, north-eastern Liaoning province, reports Metro.

The man was lucky to have survived, as he certainly would have drowned in heavy oil if not for the brave efforts of colleagues who were also at the scene as part of the massive mop up operation.

Oil has now spilled over 70 square miles of ocean, coating the Yellow Sea and halting all activity at Dalian, which is one of the busiest sea ports in China. The drowning firefighter was part of a crew of workers who had arrived in Dalian to combat a fire caused by the pipeline explosions, which took more than 15 hours to douse over the weekend.

Investigators are still trying to determine the cause of the accident, but the explosions occurred after a Libyan-flagged tanker had emptied its load at the port.

Over 500 fishing boats in the area have been ordered to cease fishing operations and to help with the clean up. Now instead of hauling fish stocks, they carry oil absorbers and dispersants.

Chinese authorities have said that the clean up effort will take only 10 days, but if the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is any indication, that's an unrealistic expectation. The 10 day timeline was more likely just a projection of when the port can be reopened.

If the firefighter had not been rescued, he would have become the first and only human casualty of the pipeline explosion and aftermath. Even so, events such as this are an ominous reminder that wildlife like turtles and birds are not the only creatures that can become engulfed by the oil slicks which threaten the Gulf coast and elsewhere.

Bryan Nelson ( @@brynelson ) writes about everything from environmental problems here on Earth to big questions in space.

China oil spill: Firefighter rescued after nearly drowning in oil
Picture taken by Greenpeace shows the man barely able to keep his head above waves of blubbery crude.