Updated: Iranian port authority downplays pollution effect of Sanchi

The Sanchi tanker collided with the CF Crystal on Saturday evening about 160 n miles off China’s coast near Shanghai. Credit: IHS Markit
The Sanchi tanker collided with the CF Crystal on Saturday evening about 160 n miles off China’s coast near Shanghai. Credit: IHS Markit

Iran’s Ports and Maritime Organization (PMO) has sought to downplay fears of oil pollution resulting from the explosion on one of National Iranian Tanker Company’s tankers and said that rescuing the missing crew members should be the priority.

PMO deputy managing director Hadi Haghshenas issued the statement shortly after China’s Ministry of Transport announced on 8 January that it had found what is believed to be the body of an Iranian crew member from Suezmax tanker Sanchi. The body was found on a part of Sanchi where the flames had been extinguished.

Sanchi, built in 2008, was en route from Assaluyeh, Iran, to Daesan, South Korea, loaded with 136,000 tonnes of condensate, when on the evening of 6 January it collided with CF Crystal, a 2011-built Panamax bulk carrier that was carrying US wheat cargoes to Machong, China.

The collision spot is 300 km off Shanghai in the East China Sea.

Touching on concerns that the unstable state of Sanchi could lead to sea pollution, Haghshenas said, “The pollution caused by crude oil at sea is different from the contamination caused by gas condensate. The cargo on Sanchi was gas condensate. In the event of a collision, condensate burns and doesn’t cause pollution of the sea.”

The discovery of the body leaves 31 of Sanchi’s 32 crew members missing. Of the crew members, 30 are Iranian and 2 are Bangladeshi.

Sanchi continues to burn, with the raging inferno emitting toxic gas that has hampered rescue efforts. Hopes that any survivors could be found have faded as more than 48 hours have passed since the collision.

“The body found by the Chinese rescuers is pending identification, although the information we received suggests that it is an Iranian crew member. We have no information about the other crew members as the thick smoke and flames have prevented rescuers from approaching the tanker,” said Haghshenas.

China’s transport ministry has sent four rescue vessels and three cleaning vessels to the site, while the Korea Coast Guard sent a rescue vessel and a helicopter to assist with the search-and-rescue efforts.

CF Crystal sustained some damage, but it was not severe. All 21 of its crew members, comprising Chinese nationals, were rescued soon after the collision. The Chinese transport ministry said CF Crystal had been taken to Luhuashan, a port south of Shanghai, to investigate the cause of the accident.

Meanwhile, the Maritime Authority of Panama said in a separate statement that it has sent an investigator to the accident site to assist with the probe.

Through the statement, Minister of Maritime Affairs Jorge Barakat Pitty expressed condolences to the families of the Sanchi crew members and said the Panama flag registry was concerned about the condition of Sanchi and was seeking the best solutions, while taking into consideration the need to protect the marine environment.