Iranian port authority and NITC investigate tanker blast

All 32 crew members on an Iranian oil tanker were feared dead after it collided with a Chinese bulk carrier off China’s east coast on 6 January. Credit: IHS Markit

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 Crystalwas 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 Sanchiand, 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.

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