US Navy joins search for 32 missing crew after tanker and freighter collide off China

Oil tanker carrying nearly 1 million barrels on fire 257km east of Shanghai

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 09 January, 2018, 9:49am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 09 January, 2018, 9:49am

The US Navy has joined the search for 32 crew members missing from an Iranian oil tanker that caught fire after colliding with a bulk freighter off China’s east coast.

China, South Korea and the United States sent ships and planes to search for the 30 Iranians and two Bangladeshis who have been missing since the collision late on Saturday. The US Navy, which sent a P-8A Poseidon aircraft from Okinawa, Japan, to aid the search, said late on Sunday that none of the missing crew had been found.

Rescuers find body on Iranian oil tanker burning in East China Sea. Dozens of crew members still missing

The Panama-registered tanker Sanchi was sailing from Iran to South Korea when it collided with the Hong Kong-registered bulk freighter CF Crystal in the East China Sea, 257km off the coast of Shanghai, the Ministry of Transport said.

All 21 crew members of the Crystal, which was carrying grain from the US to China, were rescued, the ministry said. The Crystal’s crew members were all Chinese nationals.

It was not immediately clear what caused the collision.

State-run China Central Television reported on Sunday evening that the tanker was still floating and burning, and that oil was visible in the water. Photos distributed by the South Korean government showed the tanker on fire and shrouded in thick black smoke.

Chinese authorities dispatched three ships to clean the oil spill. It was not clear, however, whether the tanker was still spilling oil on Monday and the size of the oil slick caused by the accident also was not known.

The Sanchi was carrying 136,000 tonnes (nearly 1 million barrels) of condensate, a type of ultralight oil, according to Chinese authorities.

By comparison, the Exxon Valdez was carrying 1.26 million barrels of crude oil when it spilled 260,000 barrels into Prince William Sound off Alaska in 1989.

The Sanchi has operated under five different names since it was built in 2008, according the UN-run International Maritime Organisation. The IMO listed its registered owner as Hong Kong-based Bright Shipping., on behalf of National Iranian Tanker, a publicly traded company based in Tehran. National Iranian Tanker describes itself as operating the largest tanker fleet in the Middle East.

An official in Iran’s Oil Ministry said on Sunday that 30 of the tanker’s 32 crew members were Iranians.

“We have no information on their fate,” he said. “We cannot say all of them have died, because rescue teams are there and providing services.”

The official said the tanker was owned by National Iranian Tanker and had been rented by a South Korean company, Hanwha Total. He said the tanker was on its way to South Korea.

It is the second collision involving a National Iranian Tanker ship in less than a year and a half. In August 2016, one of its tankers collided with a Swiss container ship in the Singapore Strait, damaging both ships but causing no injuries or oil spill.