Bodies of two Sanchi crew members and VDR found

Chinese firefighters spraying foam on the Sanchi. Credit: Ministry of Transport
Chinese firefighters spraying foam on the Sanchi. Credit: Ministry of Transport

Rescuers have found what are believed to be the bodies of two crew members from an Iranian tanker that has been burning since a collision on 6 January.

China’s Ministry of Transport said on 13 January that the bodies were found on the lifeboat deck of Suezmax tanker Sanchi, which was part of the National Iranian Tanker Company’s fleet. The voyage data recorder (VDR), shipping’s equivalent of the ‘black box’, was also found.

Panama-flagged 2008-built Sanchi collided with CF Crystal, a Hong Kong-flagged Panamax bulk carrier chartered by COSCO, about 300 km off Shanghai. The 136,000 tonnes of gas condensate on board Sanchi resulted in a massive inferno that firefighters have struggled to extinguish.

The discovery of the bodies, whose nationalities and identities are pending confirmation, means that 29 of the 32 Sanchi crew members, comprising 30 Iranians and two Bangladeshis, remain missing.

The body of an Iranian mariner was found on 8 January and is pending identification. All 21 of CF Crystal crew members were unhurt and the bulker, which sustained minor damage, has been brought to Luhuashan port, China, for investigation.

Strong winds blew Sanchi into Japan’s exclusive economic zone on 11 January, but Chinese, Japanese, and South Korean coastguard personnel have been working together to extinguish the flames, which with toxic gases, hampered the rescue efforts. A total of 13 vessels comprising 10 from China, two from Japan, and one from South Korea, were involved in the firefighting efforts on 13 Saturday.

While a week has passed since the casualty, officials at Iran’s Ports and Maritime Organization (PMO) have clung to hope that the crew members could have found refuge in the engine room of Sanchi.

Sanchi was sailing from Assaluyeh, Iran, to Daesan, South Korea, with the condensate cargo purchased by Hanwha TOTAL, while CF Crystal was shipping US wheat cargoes to Machong, China.

Iran’s Minister of Co-operatives, Labour and Social Welfare, Ali Rabiei, who is heading a committee convened to probe the incident, said in a statement that he has met with the Chinese and Japanese ambassadors to Iran to discuss joint efforts to find the missing crew members.

An Iranian team is also in Shanghai to assist with the investigations.

“Thermometers are measuring the temperature on Sanchi and the temperature is not low enough for rescuers to enter the living quarters on the tanker. The front and centre parts of the tanker are still burning,” said Rabiei.