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Oil tanker still on fire in the East China Sea

Photo by China’s Ministry of Transport.

An Iranian vessel operating under Panama’s flag has been on fire since last Saturday in the East China Sea, following a collision with a cargo ship about 260km off the coast of Shanghai. The boat could burn for as long as one month, Park Sung-dong, an official with South Korea’s Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries, said today.

The Sanchi was carrying 136,000 tonnes or nearly 1 million barrels of condensate from Iran to South Korea when it crashed against the Hong Kong-registered freighter CF Crystal, carrying grain from the US. Twenty-one Chinese nationals aboard the latter were rescued, however, there are no signs of survivors from the former and one body has already been recovered. At least 30 Iranians and two Bangladeshi citizens were part of the crew of the flaming boat, which was run by National Iranian Tanker Co., the country’s top oil shipping operator.

According to the BBC, China’s transport ministry said heavy winds, rain, and 4-metre waves continued to hamper efforts to contain the fire. The South Korean Coastguard, on the other hand, told Reuters that they had to stay three miles from the tanker.

Different media reports state that even though no large oil spill has been detected so far, officials are worried about the possibility of the ship exploding, sinking and releasing its toxic contents into the ocean. Condensate is an almost transparent and odorless ultra-light crude, it is more explosive than regular crude oil and it is used to produce jet and heating fuel, gasoline and diesel. The load in the Sanchi was worth about $60 million.

Authorities in the Asian giant are hopeful that the oil would continue to burn off or evaporate, thus leaving little residue. Nevertheless, possible damage to the mackerel and croaker-rich Zhoushan fishing ground, which is where the crash occurred, is still a major concern.

Geng Shuang, a spokesman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that the cause of the accident is still under investigation.