Dozens of Crew Missing As East China Sea Tanker Fire Rages On

iran-tanker-01082018.jpg Screen grab taken from Chinese state broadcaster CCTV on January 8, 2018 shows smoke and flames coming from a Iranian oil tanker ablaze at sea off the coast of eastern China.

An Iranian oil tanker that collided with a Chinese vessel in the East China Sea is still at risk of exploding, with one body found and 32 crew still missing.

The collision between a Panama-registered oil tanker and a Hong Kong-registered freighter, occurred at around 8 p.m. Saturday in waters about 160 nautical miles east of the Yangtze estuary, state news agency Xinhua reported. Missing crew included 30 Iranian nationals and two Bangladeshi nationals, it said.

"We have sent several rescue vessels to the scene," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a regular news briefing in Beijing, adding that rescuers had retrieved one body at 10.30 a.m. local time on Monday.

The Iranian vessel was still burning on Monday, and was at risk of exploding and sinking, sparking concerns over environmental devastation along China’s eastern seaboard.

But state broadcaster CCTV said the search and cleanup operation is being hampered by fierce fires and poisonous gases covering the waters around the tanker.

The Iranian-operated, Panamanian-flagged oil tanker Sanchi collided with the Hong Kong-registered CF Crystal cargo vessel with oil products equivalent to nearly a million barrels aboard.

All 21 Chinese crew members were rescued from the damaged CF Crystal, which was carrying 64,000 tons of grain from the United States to southern China, the Shanghai Maritime Bureau said in a statement on its official social media account.

The U.S. Navy sent a P-8A aircraft from Okinawa on Monday to join ships and craft from China and South Korea in the search and rescue mission.

Wuxi-based environmental activist Wu Lihong said that the rescue of the missing crew remains the top priority.

But he said China could soon be dealing with huge quantities of crude oil if the Sanchi began to leak.

Wu implementation of the clean-up could be problematic, as the tanker is currently in international waters.

“The main effort should be focused on rescuing the missing crew, but the clean-up of large amounts of crude oil from the sea is something that also needs consideration,” Wu said.

“The main problem is [environmental laws] are rarely properly implemented, because nobody will supervise the clean-up,” he said.

“For example, several rivers in the north of the eastern coastal province of Jiangsu are disgorging untreated waste water directly into the East China Sea.”

“The Huaihe estuary in northern Jiangsu, for example, is an important breeding ground for killer whales, but the pollution in that area has pretty much wiped them out there,” he said.

“Nobody talks about pollution in the East China Sea,” Wu said.

Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Geng Shuang said the cause of the accident is still under investigation.

Reported by Gao Shan for RFA’s Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.


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