NITC tanker explodes in collision, 32 missing

A TV still of the blaze: the impact of the collision caused the Sanchi to burst into flames. Credit: IHS Markit
A TV still of the blaze: the impact of the collision caused the Sanchi to burst into flames. Credit: IHS Markit

All 32 crew members from an oil tanker owned by National Iranian Tanker Company (NITC) are feared dead after the vessel collided with a Hong Kong-registered bulk carrier.

A statement released by China’s Ministry of Transport said that Sanchi, a 2008-built 164,154 dwt Suezmax tanker, had collided with CF Crystal about 300 km off Shanghai on 6 January. The impact caused Sanchi to burst into flames.

The statement said that contact with Sanchi crew members was lost after the collision and, as of 16:00 h local time, none of them had been rescued. Thirty of the crew members are Iranians while the other two are Bangladeshis.

All 21 crew members, comprising Chinese nationals from CF Crystal, a Hong Kong-flagged 2011-built 75,700 dwt Panamax bulk carrier operated by Shanghai CP Ship Management, have been rescued.

IHS Markit’s Maritime Portal shows that NITC has operated Panama-flagged Sanchi since the tanker was built. Originally called Saman, the tanker underwent several name and flag changes due to sanctions imposed on Iran in recent years. Vessel-tracking data show that Sanchi had departed Iran’s Assaluyeh port on 9 December 2017 and was due to arrive in South Korea’s Daesan port on 7 January.

CF Crystal was sailing from Busan, South Korea, carrying 64,000 tonnes of grain from the United States to Machong port in China’s Guangdong province, and was due to arrive on 10 January.

The Ministry of Transport said that while CF Crystal sustained some damage, it was not serious. The ministry said a patrol vessel, two rescue vessels, three cleaning vessels, and a tug were at the scene. These vessels are being assisted by a firefighting vessel deployed by Shanghai Fire Department.

The ministry’s statement said, “Currently, Sanchi is drifting and continues to burn. There are some oil slicks in the sea and salvage operations are still under way.”

The Korea Coast Guard has also sent a rescue vessel and a helicopter to assist with the search and rescue efforts. A coastguard official said Sanchi was still on fire as of 13:00 h local time.