An Iranian oil tanker on fire for over a week in the East China Sea exploded and sank on Sunday, officials said, with little chance of survival for the nearly 30 missing crew.
The Shanghai Maritime Search and Rescue Centre said a blast erupted on the Panama-registered tanker Sanchi at around noon on Sunday, with the vessel confirmed to have sunk by 5pm, Chinese state media reported.
The tanker, carrying 136,000 tonnes of light crude oil from Iran, initially caught fire after colliding with the Hong Kong-registered bulk freighter CF Crystal 160 nautical miles east of Shanghai on January 6.
On Sunday, China Central Television aired footage of the tanker engulfed in flames and dense smoke after the explosion, with a plume rising as high as a 3km (1.86 miles).
The vessel’s bow then collapsed and the tanker listed to one side, before sinking.
An Iranian official said on Sunday there was no chance any crew members had survived.
“There is no hope of finding survivors among the members of the crew,” Mohammad Rastad, spokesman for the Iranian rescue team sent to Shanghai, told Iran’s state broadcaster.
Rastad said information from the CF Crystal’s crew suggested that all the personnel on the Sanchi were killed in the first hour of the accident “due to the explosion and the release of gas”.
An oil slick from the tanker covered 10 square kilometres (3.86 square miles), and an area with a radius of about 150 metres (500 feet) was on fire and still burning on Sunday night, CCTV reported.
Emergency workers told CCTV that the slick had expanded rapidly.
The State Oceanic Administration (SOA) said it would closely monitor the spill and any environmental fallout, Xinhua reported.
Before the tanker sank, the SOA said the impact of the oil spill might be limited because light crude evaporated quicker than other forms of oil.
Rescuers recovered the bodies of two crew members found on the tanker’s lifeboat deck on Saturday morning, CCTV reported.
Emergency workers spent less than half an hour on board the tanker but were able to recover data and video recordings, the report said.
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse