32 missing after tanker, freighter collide off China

Thirty-two sailors are missing after an oil tanker and freight ship collided off the east coast of China Saturday, according to China’s Ministry of Transport.

The missing — 30 Iranians and two Bangladeshi citizens — are all crew members from the Panama-registered tanker SANCHI, the ministry said.

The collision took place approximately 160 nautical miles (184 statute miles) east of the mouth of the Yangtze River, at about 8 p.m. local time (7 a.m. ET), it said in a statement.

“The accident caused oil tanker ‘SANCHI’ to catch on fire, tilting to the right, losing contact with the crew,” it said.

All 21 Chinese crew on board the Hong-Kong registered freighter the CF-Crystal were rescued, the ministry said.

The 274 meter-long (nearly 890 feet-long) SANCHI was carrying 136,000 tons of oil from Iran to South Korea when it collided with the CF Crystal, which had been transporting food from the United States to the Chinese province of Guangdong, it said.

The ministry said that the tanker was still afloat and burning Sunday morning 9 a.m. local time: “Until now, ‘SANCHI’ is floating and still on fire. There are fuel stains on the sea, the rescue is going on.”

The People’s Daily newspaper tweeted a photo that appeared to show the ship ablaze.

Chinese maritime officials have launched a search and rescue operation involving eight vessels, with support from South Korea, which has provided a coastguard ship and fixed wing aircraft, the ministry said.

Ali Reza Ayroush, Iran’s Consular Affairs representative in Shanghai, told Iran state news agency IRNA on Sunday that there were no witnesses who could account for the missing crew.

“Despite the presence of first responders, firefighters and rescue equipment, given the expansion of leaked crude and the resulting increase in the severity of the flames, the situation is still fluid and the tanker is engulfed in flames,” he said.

Iran’s Shana news agency, which focuses on the country’s petroleum and energy sectors, reported that the SANCHI was managed by the National Iranian Tanker Company and that its cargo was worth around $60 million. Shana said the oil had been purchased by South Korean customers.