Sections of crippled Iranian crude oil tanker explode during rescue effort

Jan. 10 (UPI) — After Iran said Wednesday there was still a chance for survivors, media reports said parts of its tanker ablaze off the coast of China had exploded.

The explosion was reported by CNN, indicating that Chinese authorities advised the dozen or so maritime response vessels on scene to pull back and suspend fire-fighting operations.

Iranian officials earlier in the day held out hope that some members of the crew were still alive, as some of the submerged sections of the Sanchi tanker could be cool enough to stay alive.

The ship is still on fire, though Hassan Qashqavi, a deputy in the Iranian Foreign Ministry, sought to downplay the potential loss of life.

“Probably the Iranian crew has been stationed in the bottom compartments of the ship which are cooler,” he was quoted by the official Islamic Republic of Iran news agency as saying before the explosion.

So far, the body of only one of the 32 members of the crew of the Iranian oil tanker Sanchi, flagged in Panama, has been recovered. The vessel collided during the weekend with Chinese freighter CF Crystal, which was carrying grain from the United States to China.

Around a dozen vessels are working either on rescue operations or controlling the fire on the Sanchi tanker. Response operations were hampered Tuesday by high waves and heavy winds.

The crude oil tanker hit Chinese freighter CF Crystal during the weekend, which was carrying grain from the United State to China. All 21 members of the Chinese freighter were accounted for.

An oil slick has spread out from the Iranian tanker at a radius of at least a half-mile. There’s no indication so far on the extent of the potential volume spilled or level of pollution, though it could be severe. The Iranian vessel, loaded with fuel, was on its way to South Korea with about 1 million barrels of an ultra-light form of oil called condensate when it crashed.

The worst maritime spill of this kind occurred when 2.1 million barrels of oil leaked from the Atlantic Empress off the coast of Trinidad and Tobago in 1979. All 26 members of the crew died after it exploded when it collided with the Aegean Captain.

The National Iranian Tanker Co., which carried internationally-credited insurance, said it had formed an emergency committee to investigate the cause of the incident.

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