Iranian oil tanker collides with freighter off China, 32 crew members missing

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An Iranian oil tanker has collided with a bulk freighter and caught fire off China’s east coast, leaving the tanker’s entire crew of 32 missing and causing oil to spill into the sea, authorities say.

Key points:

  • Chinese, South Korean authorities despatch rescue crews
  • Tanker was carrying 136,000 metric tons of oil
  • Not clear yet what caused collision

Chinese authorities dispatched police vessels and three cleaning ships to the scene after the collision, which happened late on Saturday.

The South Korean coast guard also sent a ship and a plane to help search for the missing crew members — 30 Iranians and two Bangladeshis.

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

All 21 crew members of the Crystal, which was carrying grain from the United States, 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.

It was not clear, however, whether the tanker was still spilling oil.

The size of the oil slick caused by the accident also was not known.

The Sanchi was carrying 136,000 metric tons of condensate, a type of ultra-light oil, according to Chinese authorities.

An official in Iran’s Oil Ministry, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity, said it was not yet clear what had happened to the crew members.

“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 the National Iranian Tanker Co and had been rented by a South Korean company, Hanwha Total Co.

He said the tanker was on its way to South Korea.

Hanwa Total is a 50-50 partnership between the Seoul-based Hanwha Group and the French oil giant Total.

Total did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

It is the second collision for a ship from the National Iranian Tanker Co 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.

AP | ABC News

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