This handout picture, taken and released by the Transport Ministry of China on January 11, 2018, shows smoke and flames coming from the burning oil tanker Sanchi at sea off the coast of eastern China. (Via AFP)
The tragic fate of sailors aboard an ill-fated Iranian oil tanker that had been burning near China’s eastern coast for a week has been sealed. Iranian officials say the vessel has fully sunk, and that available evidence indicates that all crew members died soon after it collided with another vessel and a powerful blast ensued.
Iranian oil tanker Sanchi caught fire last Saturday night after it collided with the CF Crystal, a Hong Kong-registered bulk freighter carrying wheat from the US, about 160 nautical miles east of the Yangtze estuary.
It had been burning ever since despite international rescue efforts. Those efforts were hampered because of the scale of the fire and heat. The tanker was carrying 136,000 metric tons (nearly one million barrels) of condensate, a type of ultra-light oil, which kept on exploding.
Thirty two crew members were on board, comprising 30 Iranians and two Bangladeshis.
Mohammad Rastad, a spokesman for the Special Task Force established over the incident, said on Saturday that there was no hope to find the crew members alive.
Rastad said available evidence, including remarks by the crew members from the CF Crystal and latest updates from rescue workers and the commander-in-chief of the Chinese rescue mission, showed that the crew had died early after the collision because of the massive blast and the release of toxic gas.
Reports had already come out saying the blaze had spread to the ship’s left storage area.
Iran dispatched a rescue team of its own, comprising Navy Commandos on speedboats, but the team was stuck some 1,000 meters away from the burning tanker due to the extreme heat.
Rastad said efforts by rescuers to embark on the ship and retrieve the bodies of the mariners failed because of back-to-back explosions on the tanker.
Latest footage showed images of the sunken ship.
Rescue efforts had to be called off overnight because of windy weather and high waves.
Earlier, a Chinese salvage team had managed to carry out a brief operation on the ship and recover two bodies as well as the oil tanker’s black box.
The two bodies were found on a lifeboat on the tanker, and a third had been recovered earlier in the waters nearby.
The Panama-registered oil tanker belonged to the National Iranian Tanker Company (NITC).