World News

Collision Near China Leaves Iranian Oil Tanker in Flames

Posted January 8, 2018 9:11 a.m. EST

HONG KONG — Rescuers were searching Monday for crewmen missing from an Iranian oil tanker that had collided with another ship off China’s coast, leaving the tanker in flames and at risk of exploding and sinking, Chinese authorities said.

The Panamanian-flagged tanker, the Sanchi, collided with the CF Crystal, a Hong Kong-registered bulk freighter, around 8 p.m. Saturday about 160 nautical miles east of Shanghai. That area of the East China Sea is frequently crossed by ships traveling to China, South Korea, Taiwan and Japan.

All 21 Chinese crew members of the CF Crystal, which was transporting grain from the United States to Guangdong province in southeastern China, were rescued, China’s Ministry of Transport said. But the Sanchi’s entire crew — 30 Iranians and two Bangladeshis — were missing after the collision. One body has been recovered, Iran’s Ports and Maritime Organization said Monday.

Four Chinese government ships, two pollution control vessels, four commercial vessels, several fishing boats and a South Korean Coast Guard ship were aiding the search.

The burning oil was making it difficult to get close to the tanker and search for missing crew members, Iranian authorities said.

The U.S. Navy also sent a P-8A Poseidon airplane from Kadena Air Base on Okinawa, Japan. It searched about 3,600 square nautical miles without locating any missing sailors, the Navy said Sunday.

Flames and thick black smoke were seen pouring from the burning tanker Monday in video and photographs released by the South Korean Coast Guard and Chinese state news media. Chinese authorities warned that the ship could explode and sink.

The 899-foot Sanchi is owned by Bright Shipping Ltd., a subsidiary of the National Iranian Tanker Co. registered in Hong Kong, according to Chinese authorities and an International Maritime Organization database. It was carrying 136,000 tons of condensate, a light oil, from Iran to South Korea, China’s Ministry of Transport said. It was not clear how much had spilled or burned off after the collision.

Greenpeace, the environmental advocacy group, said it was worried about the potential for environmental damage and would be monitoring cleanup efforts.

The Sanchi was built in 2008, had at least four previous names and was previously flagged in four other countries, according to the International Maritime Organization and MarineTraffic, a ship monitoring service.