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Dozens Missing After Iranian Tanker and Chinese Freighter Collide -- Update

7 Jan 2018 6:39 pm
By Costas Paris 

A massive Iranian oil tanker was ablaze and leaking fuel in the East China Sea on Sunday after colliding with a large Chinese cargo ship, Iranian and Chinese officials said.

China's state broadcaster CCTV showed the Sanchi tanker, which was carrying around one million barrels of light crude, engulfed in thick, black smoke. Maritime officials feared a large spill since the tanker was carrying nearly as much oil as the Exxon Valdez, which spilled 260,000 barrels into Prince William Sound off Alaska in 1989.

"The Sanchi is floating and burning," China's Ministry of Transportation said. "There is an oil slick and we are pushing forward with rescue efforts."

The tanker, operated by National Iranian Tanker Co., or NITC, a state controlled shipping firm, collided late on Saturday with the Hong Kong-registered CF Crystal, according to the firm and the ministry. The collision occurred about 184 miles off the Shanghai coast.

The Sanchi is 274 meters (899 feet) long. It had a crew of 30 Iranians and two Bangladeshis, according to Iranian and Chinese officials. It was on its way from Iran's Kharg Island to Daesan in South Korea.

The Crystal's 21 Chinese crew members were rescued and the vessel sustained "non-critical damage," according to the Chinese ministry. It had a cargo of 64,000 tonnes of grain from the U.S. headed for Guangdong, in northern China.

"The rescue efforts are hampered by bad weather," Mohammad Rastad, head of Iran's Ports and Maritime Organization, told Iranian state television.

"There is a wide perimeter of flames around the ship because of the spill and search and rescue efforts are being carried out with difficulty. Unfortunately, there is no news of the crew," Mr. Rastad said.

Iranian officials said the tanker was leased by South Korea's Hanwha Total Petrochemical Co. Ltd., which sells petroleum products. The company couldn't immediately be reached for comment.

China's Ministry of Transportation said it had sent four rescue ships and three special vessels to contain the spill. South Korea sent a coast guard vessel and a helicopter to help the relief effort.

Over the past few years China has embarked on an effort to improve its environmental controls after a number of oil spills. China National Petroleum Corp. agreed in 2015 to pay $32 million in damages to victims of a crude oil spill near the port of Dalian in 2010.

It was the first major maritime accident involving an Iranian vessel since the lifting of United Nations sanctions against Tehran in 2016. Iranian state shipping firms have since been able to get insurance and have started renewing their fleets as the oil-producing country returns to maritime oil trade.

In August 2016 an NITC tanker collided with a Swiss container ship in the waters off Singapore, but there were no injuries or spillage.

NITC has a fleet of 46 tankers, one of the biggest in the Middle East. It has also placed orders for 25 new tankers to replace some of its aging vessels.

Write to Costas Paris at costas.paris@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

January 07, 2018 13:39 ET (18:39 GMT)
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