EghtesadOnline: The stricken Iranian oil tanker in the East China Sea could burn for as long as one month, South Korea’s Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries told Reuters on Wednesday, as the blaze raged for a fourth day following a collision with a freight ship.
Dozens of rescue boats battled strong winds, high waves and toxic fumes to comb a 900-square-nautical-mile (3,100-square-kilometer) area for 31 missing sailors and tame the fire, amid growing concerns the ship may explode or sink, Reuters reported.
“We believe flames would last for two weeks or a month considering previous cases of oil tank accidents,” said official Park Sung-dong.
“What we are concerned about at this moment is the bunker fuel, which could contaminate water if (the ship) sinks,” Financial Tribune quoted the ministry official as saying.
Aboard the ship were 30 Iranians and two Bangladeshis. On Monday, officials said a body had been found in the sea and taken to Shanghai for identification, and confirmed that it was an Iranian crew.
The tanker Sanchi, run by Iran’s top oil shipping operator, National Iranian Tanker Company, collided on Saturday with the CF Crystal, carrying grain from the United States, about 160 nautical miles (300 km) off China’s coast near Shanghai.
The Sanchi was carrying 136,000 tons of condensate, an ultra-light crude that is highly flammable, to South Korea, equivalent to about 1 million barrels and worth about $60 million.
The Chinese government said late on Tuesday it had not found a “large-scale” oil leak, and the condensate was burning off or evaporating so quickly it would leave little residue—less than 1%—within five hours of a spill. That reduces the chances of an oil slick.
Still, condensate is highly volatile when exposed to air and water, and concerns were growing the tanker could explode and sink. The ministry official said the authorities suspect the tanker caught fire as soon as it hit the freighter carrying grain.
Park said it is unlikely the oil will spread to South Korea because the tanker has moved 100 kilometers to the southeast.
--- Efforts Underway
NITC Spokesman Mohsen Bahrami said two Chinese vessels resumed efforts to douse the conflagration at around 5 a.m. Iran time (0130 GMT) on Wednesday.
The official on Tuesday denounced China for "deliberately" prolonging the firefighting operation, adding that a Japanese team was expected to reach the tanker on Wednesday to help douse the blaze.
Lu Kang, a spokesman at China’s Foreign Ministry, said on Monday it was too soon to discuss how victims of the disaster may be compensated, and that compensation and other questions would be addressed after an investigation into the accident is complete.
The incident also marked the first major maritime incident involving an Iranian tanker since the lifting of international sanctions against Iran in January 2016.
There was a collision involving an NITC-operated supertanker in the Singapore Strait in August 2016, but there was no loss of life or pollution.