BEIJING • A tanker carrying Iranian oil and run by the country's top oil shipping operator was ablaze and spewing cargo into the East China Sea yesterday after colliding with a Chinese bulk ship, leaving its 32 crew members missing, the Chinese government said.
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, Mr Mohammad Rastad, head of Iran's Ports and Maritime Organisation, told Iranian television.
The Sanchi tanker, registered in Panama, collided with the CF Crystal about 160 nautical miles off the coast near Shanghai on Saturday, China's Ministry of Transport said in statement.
It was sailing from Iran to South Korea, carrying 136,000 tonnes of condensate, an ultra light crude. That is equivalent to just under one million barrels, worth about US$60 million (S$80 million), based on global crude oil prices.
"Sanchi is floating and burning as of now," the ministry said. "There is an oil slick and we are pushing forward with rescue efforts."
It added that it had sent four rescue ships and three cleaning boats to the site.
South Korea has also sent a ship and helicopter to help.
The tanker's 32 crew members were all Iranian nationals except for two Bangladeshi nationals, the Chinese Transport Ministry said.
"There is a wide perimeter of flames around the vessel because of the spillage and search-and-rescue efforts are being carried out with difficulty," Mr Rastad said. "Unfortunately, up to this moment, there is no news of the crew," he said.
The CF Crystal, which was built in 2011, suffered "non-critical" damage, China's Transport Ministry said. The vessel, registered in Hong Kong, was carrying 64,000 tonnes of grain from the United States to China's southern province of Guangdong, the government added.
Saturday's incident marked the first major maritime incident involving an Iranian tanker since the lifting of international sanctions on Iran in January 2016. There was a collision in the Singapore Strait involving a supertanker operated by the National Iranian Tanker Co (NITC) in August 2016, but there was no loss of life or pollution in that incident.
According to Reuters ship tracking data, the Sanchi tanker was built in 2008 and was managed by the NITC. The vessel's registered owner is Bright Shipping.
The Sanchi was due to arrive at Daesan in South Korea from Kharg Island in Iran yesterday, according to the Reuters data.