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Iranian Tanker Sinks Off China After Collision -- Update

14 Jan 2018 1:33 pm
By Costas Paris 

TEHRAN, Iran--A large Iranian oil tanker that collided with a cargo ship in the East China Sea had sunk and there are no hopes of finding any survivors, Chinese and Iranian state media said Sunday.

The 899-foot Sanchi, carrying one million barrels of light crude, had been burning since the collision with the 738-foot CF Crystal off the coast of Shanghai on Jan. 5. The tanker, which drifted toward Japanese waters, had a crew of 30 Iranians and two Bangladeshis. Three bodies had been recovered from the water.

"Unfortunately, there is no hope of finding any survivors among the missing crew," Mahmoud Rastad, head of Iran's maritime agency, told Iranian state television.

Chinese state television said the Sanchi's voyage data recorder, which is similar to the "black box" on airliners, had been recovered.

However, people involved in the accident investigation questioned this, because there were no reports of anyone boarding the Sanchi. The VDR records various data, used for reconstructing a voyage.

China television footage Saturday showed parts of the tanker still aflame, its hull and superstructure completely stripped of paint. Raging flames, bad weather and poor visibility have hampered rescue efforts.

The Sanchi, owned by Iranian state-controlled shipping firm National Iranian Tanker Co (NITC) and leased by South Korea's Hanwha Total Petrochemical Co. Ltd., was carrying condensate, which is highly flammable and prone to explosion.

Chinese authorities previously said no large-scale oil spills had been found on the sea's surface and that condensate would evaporate on hitting the water's surface. Other oil-spill experts, however, said that while some evaporation would occur, condensate mixes readily with water, which would complicate any cleanup efforts.

The cause of the collision, 160 miles off the coast of Shanghai, remains unclear. The two ships stopped transmitting their location to naval tracking systems hours before the collision.

The CF Crystal, sustained light damage, but its 21 crew members are safe.

At least a dozen ships from China, Japan and Korea, were involved in the rescue and cleanup effort, but failed to extinguish the fire on the Sanchi, which kept exploding.

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 placed orders for 25 new tankers to replace some of its aging vessels.

East Asia's waters are the leading region for maritime accidents, with 34 ships lost in 2016 alone, or 40% of all shipping losses globally, according to a report by Allianz. The international insurer said the region has some of the world's busiest ship traffic and is subject to bad weather, with safety standards that sometimes lag those of other parts of the world.

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 spill near the port of Dalian in 2010.

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

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

January 14, 2018 08:33 ET (13:33 GMT)
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