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January 11, 2018

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Rescue efforts halted by blast on oil tanker

RESCUE crews were forced to retreat from the stricken Iranian oil tanker in the East China Sea yesterday following an explosion on the ship as a fire raged for a fourth day after a dramatic collision.

The blast happened on board the tanker yesterday afternoon after rescue crews were dousing the ship with foam in an attempt to put out the fire, China’s transport ministry said.

The cause and damage to the tanker from the incident were not clear.

The ship was carrying condensate, a highly flammable ultra-light crude, to deliver to South Korea when it collided with a Chinese freight ship last Saturday.

Dozens of rescue boats from China and South Korea have been battling strong winds, high waves and poisonous fumes to comb a 3,100-square-kilometer area for 31 missing sailors and tame the fire, amid growing concerns the listing ship may explode or sink. The lashing winds are expected to ease today, the transport ministry said.

Iran’s Navy joined the effort yesterday, a government official said.

The tanker Sanchi, run by Iran’s top oil shipping operator, National Iranian Tanker Co, collided with the CF Crystal, carrying grain from the United States, about 300km off China’s coast near Shanghai.

The tanker was carrying condensate equivalent to about 1 million barrels and worth some US$60 million.

Iranian officials said there was still a chance of finding survivors among the 31 remaining crew, who are all Iranian nationals except for two Bangladeshi citizens. The body of a crew member was found on Monday in the water near the tanker.

“If the crew have been able to reach some place like the engine room, then the chances of their rescue are high,” said Hassan Qashqavi, a senior Iranian foreign ministry official.

“But if, God forbid, they have been caught up in explosions because of flames inside the ship, then the chance of their rescue is small.”

Authorities and environmentalists worry though the ship is increasingly vulnerable to breaking up and sinking the longer the blaze rages. Ultra-light crude is highly volatile when exposed to air and water.

A Chinese marine surveillance plane has discovered a small area of suspected oil spill near the collision site, according to the State Oceanic Administration.

South Korea’s Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries warned yesterday the tanker could burn for up to a month, potentially expelling the tanker’s bunker fuel, or the heavy fuel oil that powers a ship’s engines and contaminating the waters. “We believe flames would last for two weeks or a month considering previous cases of oil tank accidents,” said Park Sung-dong, an official at the ministry.

Bunker fuel is the dirtiest kind of oil, extremely toxic when spilled, though much less explosive.

The Zhoushan fishing ground where the collision occurred is known as one of the biggest in the East China Sea, particularly for mackerel.


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