32 missing after Iranian oil tanker collides with Chinese freighter in East China Sea

Search and rescue mission launched to find the tanker’s 30 Iranian and two Bangladeshi crew members.

Thirty-two crew members on an Iranian oil tanker were reported missing after it collided with a Chinese freighter off China’s east coast on Saturday night, state media reported on Sunday.

Thirty Iranians and two Bangladeshis were missing from the oil tanker, the report said. The 21 members of the freighter’s crew – all Chinese nationals – were rescued.

After the collision a fire broke out on the tanker, which was still burning on Sunday, the statement said.

“Sanchi is floating and burning as of [9am]. There is an oil slick and we are pushing forward with rescue efforts,” the ministry said, without detailing the size of the slick.

Thick clouds of dark smoke could be seen billowing out of the Sanchi tanker, engulfing the vessel as rescue efforts were hampered by bad weather and fire on and around the ship, Mohammad Rastad, head of Iran’s Ports and Maritime Organisation, told Iranian television.

A Korean Coast Guard official confirmed the tanker was still raging at 1pm.

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An official from Iran’s Ministry of Petroleum said it had no information about the fate of the tanker’s crew, Associated Press reported.

“We cannot say all of them have died, because rescue teams are there and providing services,” he said.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said on Sunday that the Chinese government attached high importance to the incident.

“The cause of the collision is still under investigation,” Geng said.

China’s maritime authorities sent eight vessels to support the search and rescue effort, three of which will be involved in the clean-up operation.

South Korea, in coordination with the China Maritime Search and Rescue Centre, had sent a coastguard ship and a fixed-wing aircraft to help.

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The tanker, which is owned by an Iranian shipping company and managed by the National Iranian Tanker Company (NITC), was travelling from Kharg Island in Iran to Daesan in northwestern South Korea and had been scheduled to arrive on Sunday night.

It was carrying 136,000 tonnes, or just under 1 million barrels, of an ultra light crude worth about US$60 million.

The Iranian official said the tanker had been rented by South Korean company Hanwha Total, Associated Press reported.

Hanwa Total is a 50-50 partnership between the Seoul-based Hanwha Group and the French oil giant Total.

The Hong Kong-registered freighter is owned by a company based in eastern China’s Zhejiang province and was shipping grain from the United States to the southern Chinese province of Guangdong.

The vessel, which was reported to have been damaged in the collision, was due to arrive at its destination on Wednesday. The reports did not elaborate on the extent of the damage.

The incident is the second involving an NITC-operated vessel in less than two years. In August 2016, one of its supertankers collided with a container ship in the Singapore Strait. There were no casualties and the incident did not cause any pollution.

Additional reporting by Reuters

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: 32 missing in East China Sea collision

08 January 2018