Iran Firm ‘Hopeful’ of Survivors on Burning Tanker

The Iranian company whose oil tanker burst into flames after a collision in the East China Sea said on Wednesday there is still hope of finding survivors as 31 crew members remain missing and rescue efforts continued, The New Arab reports.

As the stricken Sanchi still lists after colliding with the Hong Kong-registered freighter CF Crystal late on Saturday, a spokesman for National Iranian Tanker Co. said that rescuers “likely” will find survivors.

“Since the vessel’s engine room is not directly affected by the fire and is about 14 meters underwater, there is still hope. We are persistently working to put out the fire and rescue possible survivors. The body of one of the 32 crew members has been recovered and taken to Shanghai for identification,” spokesman Mohsen Bahrami said late on Tuesday.

Mahmoud Abuli Ghasemabadi, the brother of missing Iranian sailor Ehasan Abuli Ghasemabadi, said he and other families remained hopeful for good news.

“I ask countries that are in that region and can offer any assistance to help us deal with this situation as soon as possible,” Ghasemabadi said.

The Panamanian-registered Sanchi had a crew of 30 Iranians and two Bangladeshis, Chinese state media reported. The 21 members of Crystal’s all-Chinese crew were rescued. What caused Saturday’s collision in the East China Sea, 257 kilometers off the coast of Shanghai, remains unclear. The Sanchi was carrying 136,000 metric tons of condensate, a type of ultra-light oil, according to Chinese authorities.

South Korean petrochemical company Hanwha Total Co., a 50-50 partnership between the Seoul-based Hanwha Group and French oil giant Total, said in a previous email to Associated Press it had contracted the Sanchi to import Iranian condensate to South Korea.

The tanker has operated under five different names since it was built in 2008, according to the UN-run International Maritime Organisation. The National Iranian Tanker Co. describes itself as operating the largest tanker fleet in the Middle East.

Chinese authorities battling to prevent an environmental disaster after a collision between an Iranian tanker and a cargo ship said Wednesday (Jan 10) no major oil spill has been detected, but 31 sailors remained missing. Cleanup and rescue ships have faced toxic fumes, rain, and windy conditions as they scrambled to find survivors and avoid a massive oil slick since Saturday’s incident.

Experts had warned that a spill of the Panamanian-flagged 274-meter tanker’s cargo could spell environmental catastrophe as authorities said the ship could explode or sink. But China’s transport ministry said in a statement that as of Tuesday, “no large-scale oil spills were found on the sea surface” where the search is being conducted around the stricken vessel, which continued to burn.

“The oil from the tanker is condensate oil that is expected to quickly evaporate upon hitting the water, with very little residue on the water’s surface”, the ministry said.

A simulation test also found that less than one percent of oil content would remain on the sea surface five hours after a condensate oil leak. As the blaze raged for a fourth day following a collision with a freight ship, South Korea’s Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries told Reuters on Wednesday that the stricken Iranian oil tanker in the East China Sea could burn for as long as one month.

“We believe flames would last for two weeks or a month considering previous cases of oil tank accidents. What we are concerned about at this moment is the bunker fuel, which could contaminate water if (the ship) sinks,” said official Park Sung-dong.

The Chinese government said late on Tuesday it had not found a “large-scale” oil leak, and the condensate was burning off or evaporating so quickly that it would leave little residue – less than 1 percent – within five hours of a spill. That reduces the chances of a crude-style oil slick. Still, condensate is highly volatile when exposed to air and water and concerns were growing the tanker could explode and sink. The ministry official said authorities suspect the tanker caught fire as soon as it hit the freighter carrying grain.

Park said it’s unlikely the oil will spread to South Korea at the moment because the tanker has moved 100 kilometers to the southeast.

Meanwhile, following the order issued by President Rouhani, representatives from three ministries formed a committee to conduct an investigation into the conditions of the Iranian crew members of the oil tanker and their families.

A committee consisting of the representatives from the foreign ministry, oil ministry and the ministry of roads and urban development met on Tuesday afternoon in order to investigate into the latest conditions of the crew members of the Iranian oil tanker that collided with a freighter off China coast. The committee has been formed to expedite the process of investigation, improve coordination between Iranian and Chinese officials and create a center for adopting necessary decisions.

On Tuesday morning, President Rouhani addressed a session formed to discuss the latest situation of the Iranian oil tanker and ordered the foreign, oil and roads ministers to marshal all their national and regional forces and resources in order to accelerate the process of making decisions and taking action about the crew members of the said tanker.

It’s the second collision for a ship from the National Iranian Tanker Co. in less than 18 months. 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.