Oil Tanker Ablaze Off Chinese Coast at Risk of Explosion, Authorities Say 



An Iranian oil tanker ablaze off the Chinese coast was at risk of exploding or sinking, authorities said Monday, as they reported there was no sign of survivors 36 hours after the vessel erupted in flames.

A huge fire was still raging around the stricken ship, which had been carrying 136,000 tons of light oil, with fierce heat and thick black smoke billowing from the vessel and the surrounding sea.

The body of one crew member was found aboard the tanker, an Iranian official said.

Mohammad Rastad, head of Iran’s Ports and Maritime Organization, was quoted as saying by the ISNA news agency that the body was sent to Shanghai for identification.

Rescuers were attempting to reach the other 29 Iranian and two Bangladeshi crew members but were being beaten back by toxic clouds, authorities said.

The Panamanian-flagged 274-meter tanker Sanchi is “in danger of exploding or sinking,” the ministry said.

The U.S. Navy sent a military aircraft to assist with the search, which spanned an area of about 12,350 square km but said in a statement it did not locate any of the tanker’s 32 missing crew members.

The Sanchi tanker, run by Iran’s top oil shipping operator, collided Saturday evening with the CF Crystal about 300 km off China’s coast near Shanghai and the mouth of the Yangtze River Delta.

Chinese state media showed pictures of the tanker ablaze and billowing plumes of thick dark smoke on Sunday. China sent four rescue ships and three cleaning boats to the site, while South Korea dispatched a ship and a helicopter.

The Panama-registered tanker was sailing from Iran to South Korea carrying 136,000 metric tons of condensate, an ultra light crude. That is equivalent to just under 1 million barrels, worth about $60 million, based on global crude oil prices.

The freighter, which was carrying U.S. grain, suffered limited damage and the 21 crew members, all Chinese nationals, were rescued.

The extent of the environmental harm and size of the spill were not yet known, but based on the tanker’s tonnage, it has the potential to be the worst since 1991 when 260,000 metric tons of oil leaked off the Angolan coast. Read the rest of this entry »