SHANGHAI – China warned on Tuesday that an Iranian oil tanker, which collided with a freighter in the East China Sea, could explode, while rescuers were still searching for 31 missing people after an incident which could unleash an environmental disaster.
The oil tanker Sanchi – registered in Panama – was still on fire after a collision with the Hong Kong-registered bulk freighter CF Crystal, which took place on Saturday at around 8:00 pm in the East China Sea, about 160 nautical miles east of the Yangtze River estuary.
The Chinese transport minister said on Tuesday that there was a danger of the Iranian tanker exploding or sinking, adding that the rescue operations were extremely tricky as the toxic smoke in the area could harm the people involved.
Thirteen rescue vessels are operating at the site of the accident to search for the missing people in a 900 square nautical mile area.
Operations have been hampered due to persistent rainfall and strong winds which are causing waves of up to four meters (13 feet) in height.
A 20 nautical mile security perimeter has been established where ships are not allowed to enter.
Initially, there were 32 people missing – 30 Iranians and two Bangladeshis – but the ministry said that one corpse was recovered on Monday morning, bringing the number of missing to 31.
The Chinese government said that an oil spill had taken place, but did not specify the extent of the area affected.
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang had said Monday that clean-up efforts were under way and that the authorities would try to gather more information about the cause of the accident.
Environmental organizations including Greenpeace are concerned that the incident could become a major maritime disaster.
Greenpeace East Asia told EFE on Tuesday that the nonprofit was trying to get more information via satellite to assess the situation.
The 31 missing are crew members from the Sanchi, while the 21 people – all Chinese citizens – who were on board the CF Crystal were rescued.
The Sanchi, 274 meters (899 feet) in length, was transporting 136,000 tons of refined petroleum from Iran to South Korea.
The CF Crystal, which belongs to a company headquartered in the province of Zhejiang in China, is 225 meters in length and was carrying 64,000 tons of grain from the United States to southern China.