East China Sea slick fire from sunken oil tanker burns out

East China Sea slick fire from sunken oil tanker burns out
Mon Jan 15, 2018 10:34:28

The fire from a sunken Iranian tanker ship in the East China Sea has burned out, a Chinese transport ministry spokesman said Monday, although concerns remain about possible major pollution to the sea bed and surrounding waters.

 ASSOCIATED PRESS--  The spokesman, who identified himself only by his surname, Zhao, said the fire ceased around noon. Earlier footage showed huge clouds of thick smoke rising from the oil slick.

Just three bodies from the tanker Sanchi's crew of 32, composed of 30 Iranians and two Bangladeshis, have been recovered.

The cause of the Jan. 6 collision between the Sanchi and the Chinese freighter CF Crystal, which happened 257 kilometers (160 miles) east of Shanghai, remains unclear. All 21 crewmembers aboard the freighter were reported safe.

Rescuers boarded the Sanchi on Saturday morning to recover two bodies, but a large explosion shook the ship around noon on Sunday and it sank within hours. High temperatures had prevented rescuers from entering the crew quarters.

The ship was carrying a type of hydrocarbon liquid known as natural gas condensate and left a 10-square-kilometer (3.8-square-mile) area contaminated with oil, according to Chinese authorities. Condensate is highly toxic but readily evaporates or burns off in a fire. If trapped underwater, however, it could seriously harm the marine environment, while the ship's fuel source also poses a major threat.

The ship's voice data recorder, which functions like a "black box" on aircraft, was reportedly recovered on Saturday, possibly helping shed light on how the collision and resulting fire occurred.

Zhao, who is deputy head of the ministry's press office, said new photos and video footage showed the fire had gone out entirely and said an investigation into the disaster would be conducted according to the "strictest international standards."

Chinese state broadcaster CCTV said rescue operations had been converted at noon to a search-and-recovery effort. Two ships were on the scene spraying foam detergents to dissolve oil remaining on the surface.

Families of the sailors wept and screamed at the headquarters of the National Iranian Tanker Co. in Tehran, the company that owns the Sanchi. Some needed to be taken by ambulance to nearby hospitals as they were so overwhelmed by the news.

President Hassan Rouhani and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei both expressed their condolences, with Rouhani calling on relevant government agencies to investigate the tragedy and take any necessary legal measures. The government also announced Monday as a nationwide day of public mourning over the disaster.


 

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