Explosion fears as fire rages on China oil tanker

Fears are growing for 32 missing crew members caught in what is being described as potentially one of the worst environmental disasters since 1991.

Late on Saturday night an Iranian oil tanker collided with a Hong-Kong registered freight ship.

The US Navy joined rescue teams in search of survivors as the fire raged for a second day today.

China has sent several ships to carry out search-and-rescue operations, while South Korea provided a coast guard ship and a helicopter.

The initial collision took place late on Saturday 8th January in the East China Sea. With the tanker still leaking oil this could be the worst environmental incident since 260,000 tonnes of oil leaked off the Angolan coast.

Chinese officials have told state media the Sanchi is in danger of exploding and sinking.


Toxic clouds have prevented rescuers reaching the site.

The body of one crewman, among the 30 Iranians and two Bangldeshis on board, has been found. The remaining crew are still missing.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said that weather conditions were “not that favourable for search and rescue work”.

There are no signs of survivors among the 32-strong crew. The 21 Chinese nationals on the grain freighter were rescued.


The Panama-flagged Sanchi was travelling from Iran to South Korea when it collided with the Hong Kong-registered freighter CF Crystal in the East China Sea. The incident occurred about 260km (160 miles) off the coast of Shanghai.

The tanker, run by Iran’s leading oil shipping operator, has on board 136,000 tonnes of condensate, which is an ultra light version of crude oil. That’s about one million barrels and at current prices is worth roughly $60m (£44m).

The Sanchi will also be carrying a certain amount of heavy – and toxic – shipping fuel.

Condensate is very different from the black crude that is often seen in oil spills.

It exists in gas form within high-pressure oil reservoirs and liquefies once extracted.

It is highly toxic, low in density and considerably more explosive than regular crude oil.

Shanghai Maritime Bureau’s navigation department said the collision did not affect traffic in and out of Shanghai, one of the world’s busiest and biggest ports, or ports along the Yangtze river.

This is the first major maritime incident involving an Iranian tanker since the lifting of international sanctions on Iran in January.

The exact cause of the collision is not yet known.


  • 1967- The Torrey Canyon hit a reef off Cornwall, England, spilling 36 million gallons of crude
  • 1978- The Amoco Cadiz spilled almost 69 million gallons off Brittany in France
  • 1979- The Atlantic Empress and Aegean Captain collided off Trinidad and Tobago in 1979. 26 members of the Atlantic Empress crew died. There was a 90 million gallon oil spill
  • 1983- The Castillo de Bellver caught fire and broke apart off Cape Town, spilling 78 million gallons
  • 1989- The Exxon Valdez spilled 11 million gallons in Prince William Sound, Alaska
  • 1991- The ABT Summer exploded off Angola, spilling 80 million gallons of oil