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Oil tanker burning off China at risk of explosion

China Central Television/Reuters

Smoke and fire is seen from the Panama-registered tanker Sanchi after it collided with a Chinese freight ship in the East China Sea, in this still image taken from a video on Sunday.

The Associated Press BEIJING (AP) — An oil tanker that caught fire after colliding with a freighter off China’s east coast is at risk of exploding and sinking, Chinese state media reported Monday as authorities from three countries struggled to find its 32 missing crew members and contain oil spewing from the blazing wreck.

State broadcaster China Central Television, citing Chinese officials, said none of the 30 Iranians and two Bangladeshis who have been missing since the collision late Saturday have been found as of 8 a.m. on Monday. Meanwhile, search and cleanup efforts have been hampered by fierce fires and poisonous gases that have completely engulfed the tanker and surrounding waters, CCTV reported.

The Panama-registered tanker Sanchi was sailing from Iran to South Korea when it collided late Saturday with the Hong Kong-registered freighter CF Crystal in the East China Sea, 257 kilometers off the coast of Shanghai, China’s Ministry of Transport said.

China, South Korea and the U.S. have sent ships and planes to search for the Sanchi’s crew, all of whom remain missing. The U.S. Navy, which sent a P-8A aircraft from Okinawa, Japan, to aid the search, said late Sunday that none of the missing crew had been found.

All 21 crew members of the Crystal, which was carrying grain from the United States to China, were rescued, the Chinese ministry said. The Crystal’s crew members were all Chinese nationals.

It wasn’t immediately clear what caused the collision.

Kwon Yong Deok, a Korea Coast Guard official, told The Associated Press thick black smoke was still billowing from the ship on Monday afternoon and bad weather was worsening visibility at the scene.

The Sanchi was carrying 136,000 metric tons (150,000 tons) of condensate, a type of ultra-light oil, according to Chinese authorities, who have dispatched three ships to clean the spill.

By comparison, the Exxon Valdez was carrying 1.26 million barrels of crude oil when it spilled 260,000 barrels into Prince William Sound off Alaska in 1989, badly damaging local ecology and the area’s fishing-based economy.

But the size of the oil slick from the Sanchi — and the scale of the environmental toll — may be smaller. Unlike the thick crude that gushed out of the Valdez, much of the light, gassy condensate from the Sanchi may have evaporated or burned immediately, said Kwon, the Korea Coast Guard official.

The Sanchi’s own fuel that leaked during the collision will be more difficult to clean, officials said.

South Korean petrochemical company Hanwha Total Co., a 50-50 partnership between the Seoul-based Hanwha Group and French oil giant Total, said in an email to the AP it had contracted the Sanchi to import Iranian condensate to South Korea.Speech

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