Iran’s Ports and Maritime Organization (PMO) has said it will conduct a joint investigation with the National Iranian Tanker Company (NITC) into the blast on one of the company’s tankers that left 32 seafarers missing.
Sanchi, a 2008-built Suezmax tanker, burst into flames after colliding with CF Crystal, a 2011-built Panamax bulk carrier operated by Shanghai CP Ship Management, off the Shanghai coast in the East China Sea on the evening of 6 January.
A raging inferno could be seen on the wreckage of Panama-flagged Sanchi and, as of midday on 8 January, there was still no news of the tanker crew, comprising 30 Iranians and two Bangladeshis.
All 21 crew members of CF Crystal, comprising Chinese nationals, were rescued.
China’s Ministry of Transport said that rescue efforts remain under way and that damage sustained to CF Crystal was not serious.
Sanchi was carrying Iranian crude to Daesan, South Korea, when the collision happened. CF Crystal was shipping 64,000 tonnes of US wheat to Machong in China’s Guangdong province.
PMO deputy managing director Hadi Haghshenas said, “The fire is severe due to the oil cargoes on board Sanchi and, unfortunately, we have yet to receive any information on the crew.
“We are in touch through the maritime rescue co-ordination centre in Bandar Abbas and will do all we can to find out what has happened to the crew.”
Korea Coast Guard has sent a rescue vessel and a helicopter to assist in rescue efforts but Chinese media, quoting transport ministry officials, reported that the thick smoke and flames were hampering search-and-rescue operations.
Hadi added that PMO is working with NITC’s China office to investigate the cause of the accident.
NITC, a subsidiary of National Iranian Oil Company, owns more than 50 tankers, mostly oil tankers ranging from Aframaxes to very large crude carriers.
The US Navy deployed a P-8A aircraft from its base in Okinawa, Japan, to assist with the rescue operations. The aircraft searched an area of more than 12,000 km² but did not find any sign of the missing Sanchi crew members.
A statement from the China Maritime Safety Administration (CMSA) on 8 January said that, as of 10:00 h local time, none of the missing Sanchi crew members had been found. CMSA added that the damage sustained to Sanchi had made the tanker unstable, putting it at risk of exploding and sinking.
Oil slicks are forming because of leaking cargo and fuel oil from Sanchi, and a clean-up is under way.
South Korean news agency Yonhap reported that Sanchi was carrying condensate purchased by Hanwha Total Petrochemical, a joint venture between South Korea’s Hanwha Corporation and French oil group Total. Hanwha Total produces chemicals such as ethylene, propylene as well as oil products such as jet fuel and gasoil.
Commenting on the incident in a video message, IMO secretary general Kitack Lim said: “This is an ongoing situation which we are monitoring. IMO stands ready to offer any technical assistance that may be needed. In the longer term, it is expected that there will be a full investigation into this incident and that the results and findings will be brought to IMO so that we can do whatever may be necessary to reduce the chances of such an incident happening again.”
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the seafarers still missing from the oil tanker Sanchi, following a reported collision off the coast of China. I send my deepest sympathies to all their families and loved ones.
“I would like to commend all those who have been involved in the international search and rescue operations so far and in the efforts to battle the fire and contain pollution from the ship.
In August 2016 another NITC tanker Dream II and an MSC container ship collided in the Singapore Strait. The tanker sustained damage to the bow but no human casualties.