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China to send in deep-sea divers to plug oil leaks in sunken Iranian tanker Sanchi

Maritime authorities also deploying bigger salvage vessels for emergency operation

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 16 January, 2018, 9:29pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 January, 2018, 12:23pm

Chinese maritime authorities will deploy deep-sea divers to assess the wreck and plug oil leaks from an Iranian tanker that exploded and sank in the East China Sea on Sunday.

An emergency task force official and a leading marine specialist said on Tuesday that the top priority would be to plug any leaking oil pipes on the tanker to minimise damage to the marine ecosystem.

An official from the Shanghai Maritime Search and Rescue Centre, which is in charge of the emergency operation, said the authorities were also sending in bigger salvage vessels to support the divers. Underwater robots would also be deployed to survey the wreckage, the authorities said on Wednesday.

“[It will be] a daunting task to entirely block the leaks but China is doing its utmost to minimise the impact,” the official said.

The Panama-registered, Iranian-operated Sanchi collided with the Hong Kong-registered bulk freighter CF Crystal and caught fire about 160 nautical miles east of Shanghai on January 6.

The tanker was carrying 136,000 tonnes of highly flammable ultra-light crude oil and had a crew of 30 Iranians and two Bangladeshis, all of whom are believed to have died in the incident.

Seafood supply may be hit as Sanchi oil spill spreads in East China Sea

The vessel exploded and sank on Sunday afternoon after drifting about 160km (100 miles) southeast, according to a Shanghai-based port authority official briefed on the incident.

China has sent 14 ships to the scene, including salvage and clean-up vessels.

Professor Gong Yongjun, a maritime rescue operations specialist at Dalian Maritime University, said the next step was to assess the severity of the damage to the tanker and find ways to contain any leaks.

Gong said the amount of oil still on the tanker would be a big concern for the emergency workers.

In Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said China welcomed other parties to help with the search-and-rescue and recovery efforts.

The Sanchi drifted southeast towards Japan after the collision, and Japanese and South Korean vessels are working with the Chinese crews on the operation.

East China Sea oil fire out but eco threat lurks from sunken Iranian tanker

“Initial observations by the Chinese authorities are that Japan may be more vulnerable to the tanker spill [than China] given the wind direction in the area,” a Shanghai-based port authority official said. “Chinese port operations and sea routes have not been affected [by the spill].”

An official with Japan’s environment ministry told Reuters on Tuesday there was little chance of the oil spill reaching its shores.

On Monday, the Japan Coast Guard said the oil had spread over an area 13km long and 11km wide.

Before the tanker went down, Chinese emergency workers boarded the vessel and recovered its black box containing the ship’s sailing data and voice recorder.

But high temperatures and poisonous gases stopped them from reaching the cabins where some of the crew were thought to be, according to Chinese state media.