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Explosion risk for burning Iranian oil tanker off China coast
An Iranian oil tanker on fire for two days after colliding with a Chinese cargo ship off the coast of east China is at risk of exploding and causing a major environment disaster, authorities warned as they raced against time to rescue 32 missing sailors.
Rescuers recovered an unidentified body believed to be that of a missing crew member of Panamanian-flagged tanker 'Sanchi' while search is on for the missing crew members, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a media briefing here.
Thirty-two crew members, including 30 Iranians and two Bangladeshis, went missing after the tanker carrying 136,000 tonnes of oil condensate from Iran to South Korea collided with a Hong Kong-registered bulk freighter and caught fire on Saturday in waters about 160 sea miles east of the Yangtze River's estuary.
The huge fire still raged around the tanker with thick black smoke billowing from the vessel and the surrounding sea.
Authorities and environment experts fear a major environmental disaster in the East China Sea as the tanker continues to leak oil two days after colliding with the cargo ship.
Officials said they apprehend that the tanker could explode and create a massive oil spill in the area.
The 274-metre tanker Sanchi is "in danger of exploding or sinking", Lu said.
Lu said China sent several ships to the site, but the environment and conditions on the ground are not favourable.
The relentless fire hampered the search and clean-up operations.
About the concerns of a major oil spill he said, “We also have dispatched cleaning vessel to the site. We are also investigating to prevent any secondary disaster."
Rescuers attempting to reach the site were being beaten back by toxic clouds.
Condensate is an ultra light version of crude oil. It is highly toxic, low in density and considerably more explosive than regular crude oil.
The oil tanker has tilted toward the right side after the collision. The 225-meter-long second vessel CF CRYSTAL, carrying 64,000 tonnes of grain from the US, was partly damaged in the collision. It was owned by a Chinese shipping company and was travelling from the United States to Guangdong, China.
Asked how China plans to deal with issues related to compensation, he said the reason for the accident is yet to ascertained.
"Immediately after the accident happened, China started its rescue work and is trying to clean the waste," he said.
Chinese maritime authorities dispatched eight vessels, including three specialised cleansing vessels, for search and rescue operation.
After coordination by the China Maritime Search and Rescue Centre, South Korea dispatched a coast guard ship and a fixed-wing aircraft to assist in the search and rescue.
The US Navy also sent a military aircraft to help with the rescue efforts.
Environment experts have expressed fear that the accident could create a massive environmental disaster and kill off marine life across a wide area.
Greenpeace in a statement said it was "concerned about the potential environmental damage that could be caused by the 1 million barrels of crude oil on board."
According to reports, the collision has the potential to cause the worst such oil spill in decades.
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