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Iranian oil tanker explodes and sinks after eight days ablaze in East China Sea

15 January 2018

An Iranian tanker carrying ultra-light crude oil to South Korea has sunk in the East China Sea, more than a week after its collision with a cargo ship 160 nautical miles east of Shanghai, China's Ministry of Transport said on January 14. Shanghai Marine Search and Rescue Centre confirmed that the oil tanker Sanchi sank about 150 nautical miles from its initial collision point with the Panamax dry bulk carrier CF Crystal.

The tanker engulfed in flames on January 13 - Image: China Transport Ministry
The tanker engulfed in flames on January 13 - Image: China Transport Ministry

Three crewmen have been found dead, and 29 others are missing. An Iranian official said there was no hope of finding any of the Sanchi’s crew alive.

“There is no hope of finding survivors among the members of the crew,” Mohammad Rastad, spokesman for the Iranian rescue team sent to Shanghai, told Iran’s state broadcaster.

"Sanchi exploded again around 12 pm January 14, which caused the whole vessel to burn, with flames as high as 800-1,000 meters," China's Ministry of Transport said in a statement.

While the tanker was still afloat on the morning of January 13, four Chinese salvage workers went on board to search the vessel and brought back two bodies, along with the ship's black box, the transport ministry said. The workers, wearing protective apparel and oxygen tanks, were only able to spend less than 30 minutes on board due to the high temperatures and thick smoke.

The two dead crewmen were found in a lifeboat, bringing the total number of crew members recovered to three. The body of another was found in the sea soon after rescue vessels first arrived on the scene.

The black box data recorder is designed to withstand extreme shock, impact, pressure and heat, and could reveal more information about the incident.

The Iranian tanker, carrying around 960,000 barrels of South Pars condensate, first caught fire on January 6 after the collision. The Iranian rescue team said information from the CF Crystal’s crew suggested that all the Sanchi’s crew were killed in the first hour of the accident due to gas releases and explosions.

The 164,154-dwt Sanchi was a 2008-built, Panama-flagged vessel owned and operated by the National Iranian Tanker Co., and the 75,725-dwt CF Crystal is a Hong Kong-flagged vessel which was carrying soya beans from the US West Coast to South Korea.

CF Crystal's bow was damaged and the entire crew rescued. On January 8 the bulker was escorted by a rescue vessel into Zhoushan, south of Shanghai, where it is currently moored.

An oil slick from the tanker covered 10 square kilometres, and an area with a radius of about 150 metres was on fire and still burning on the night of January 14, above where the tanker went down.

Emergency workers told CCTV that the slick had expanded rapidly. The State Oceanic Administration (SOA) said it would closely monitor the spill and any environmental fallout, Xinhua reported.

Before the tanker sank, the SOA said the impact of the oil spill might be limited because light crude evaporated quicker than other forms of oil.

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