An Iranian oil tanker burst into flames from end to end and sank on Sunday, eight days after a collision with a cargo ship off China. Iranian officials said available evidence indicates that all crew members were killed in the first hour of the accident.
The Sanchi, carrying 136,000 tons of light crude oil from Iran, had been in flames since colliding with the CF Crystal, a Hong Kong-registered bulk freighter, on January 6.
Around midday Sunday the ship “suddenly ignited,” with the entire vessel burning fiercely and a pall of smoke around 800-1,000 meters high, China’s Transport Ministry said, releasing dramatic pictures showing the entire vessel obscured by thick black smoke. The ship later sank, China’s State Oceanic Administration said.
The administration said that because the hull of the ship had detonated, a large amount of oil in surrounding waters was on fire. The administration said it would expand the scope of its monitoring and “quickly ascertain the spread and drift of overflowing oil” from the wrecked ship.
“There is no hope of finding survivors among the members of the crew,” Mohammad Rastad, spokesman for the Iranian rescue team dispatched to Shanghai, told Iran’s national broadcaster before the tanker went down.
Rastad said information from members of the Crystal crew suggested all the personnel on the Sanchi died soon after the collision “due to the explosion and the release of gas.”
“Despite our efforts, it has not been possible to extinguish the fire and recover the bodies due to repeated explosions and gas leaks,” he said.
The tanker, operated by National Iranian Tanker Co., was carrying almost one million barrels of condensate, an ultra-light crude oil, to South Korea.
It collided with the CF Crystal (IMO:9497050), which was carrying grain from the United States, about 160 nautical miles (184 km) off China’s coast near Shanghai.
The Sanchi had a crew of 32 – 30 Iranians and two Bangladeshis. A Chinese salvage team on Saturday recovered two bodies from the tanker. Another body, presumed to be one of the Sanchi’s sailors, was found on Monday and brought to Shanghai for identification. Iranian officials said the remaining 29 crew members and passengers of the tanker were presumed dead.
It’s the second collision for a ship from the National Iranian Tanker Co. in less than a year and a half. In August 2016, one of its tankers collided with a Swiss container ship in the Singapore Strait, damaging both ships but causing no injuries or oil spill.
Message of condolence
President Hassan Rouhani sent messages of condolence to the families of the crew and called for an investigation into the accident.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi earlier told his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif by telephone that “as long as there is one percent of hope, China will continue to make 100 percent effort” to rescue and recover the crew.
The rescuers also retrieved the tanker’s “black box,” the Transport Ministry said, without specifying exactly what had been retrieved.
A reporter with China’s state television CCTV aboard a plane from the State Oceanic Administration reported seeing wreckage from the Sanchi and oil on fire, and spilt fuel covering a 10-square-kilometer area.
“The oil spill situation is very serious,” CCTV quoted the reporter as saying on social media.
But the television earlier also cited Zhang Yong, a senior engineer with the State Oceanic Administration, as playing down fears of a spill.
“Because this is light crude oil spill, relatively speaking, it has a much smaller impact than other oil spills because this kind of oil is especially volatile – most of it has entered the atmosphere, so it’s had less impact on the ocean,” Zhang was quoted as saying.
“This area should be considered the open sea, very far from places where people live, so the human impact should be minimal.”
Thirteen ships, including one from South Korea and two from Japan, were engaged in the rescue and clean-up effort Saturday, spraying foam in an effort to extinguish the fire.
Intense flames, bad weather and poor visibility have all hampered rescue efforts.
AFP, Reuters, AP and Press TV contributed to this story.