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Huge oil tanker at risk of exploding after collision; 1 body found

An oil tanker that collided with a freight ship off the east coast of China was still on fire Monday and at risk of exploding, Chinese authorities said.

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Serenitie Wang, Tim Schwarz
Nanlin Fang (CNN)
BEIJING (CNN) — An oil tanker that collided with a freight ship off the east coast of China was still on fire Monday and at risk of exploding, Chinese authorities said.

The Shanghai Maritime Bureau said Monday morning the vessel and leaked cargo were burning furiously and that fumes were hampering rescue efforts. It said that experts believed there was a risk the vessel could explode and sink.

"The poisonous gas... is very harmful to rescue workers in the field."

Thirty Iranians and two Bangladeshi citizens went missing from the Panama-registered tanker SANCHI after the collision Saturday. Lu Kang, a spokesman for China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said Monday that one body had been found by search and rescue teams but its identity hadn't been confirmed.

"The environment and the conditions on the ground are not very favorable for search and rescue work and some crew members are still missing, Lu said.

"We have also dispatched some cleaning vessels to the site to prevent any secondary disaster," he added.

The Shanghai Maritime Bureau has drawn a 10-nautical-mile avoidance area around the SANCHI.

The collision took place approximately 160 nautical miles (184 statute miles) east of the mouth of the Yangtze River, at about 8 p.m. local time (7 a.m. ET) Saturday, the Ministry of Transport said in a statement.

With a length of 900 feet (274 meters) and displacing more than 85,000 tons, the SANCHI almost as big as the US Navy's Nimitz-class aircraft carriers, according to the ship tracking site

The SANCHI is also less than 10 years old, launched in 2008, the website says.

Freighter crew rescued

All 21 Chinese crew on board the Hong-Kong registered freighter the CF-Crystal were rescued, the ministry said.

The SANCHI was carrying 136,000 tons of oil from Iran to South Korea when it collided with the CF Crystal, which had been transporting food from the United States to the Chinese province of Guangdong, it said.

The People's Daily newspaper tweeted a photo that appeared to show the ship ablaze.

Chinese maritime officials have launched a search and rescue operation involving eight vessels, with support from South Korea, which has provided a coast guard ship and aircraft, the ministry said.

Ali Reza Ayroush, Iran's consular affairs representative in Shanghai, told the Iranian state news agency IRNA on Sunday that there were no witnesses who could account for the missing crew.

"Despite the presence of first responders, firefighters and rescue equipment, given the expansion of leaked crude and the resulting increase in the severity of the flames, the situation is still fluid and the tanker is engulfed in flames," he said.

Iran's Shana news agency, which focuses on the country's petroleum and energy sectors, reported that the SANCHI was managed by the National Iranian Tanker Company and that its cargo was worth around $60 million. Shana said the oil had been purchased by South Korean customers.

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