Disaster alert from stricken oil tanker in East China Sea

  • Disaster alert from stricken oil tanker in East China Sea

Disaster alert from stricken oil tanker in East China Sea

The Sanchi was carrying almost 1 million barrels of condensate, a type of gassy, ultra-light oil, when it collided on Saturday evening with a freighter 257 kilometres from Shanghai and caught fire.

“We believe flames would last for two weeks or a month considering previous cases of oil tank accidents, ” said official Park Sung-Dong.

Intense flames, bad weather and poor visibility have hampered rescue efforts.

He said: "The engine room is not directly affected by the fire and is about 14 meters under water... there is still hope".

The Sanchi was delivering 136,000 tonnes of condensate, a highly flammable ultra-light crude, to South Korea. The shipment, destined for Panama, was worth around $60 million.

But China's transport ministry said in a statement that as of 6:00 pm Tuesday, "no large-scale oil spills were found on the sea surface" where the search is being conducted around the stricken vessel, which continued to burn. That reduces the chances of a crude-style oil slick.

The collision has also raised fears of oil contamination, although Chinese authorities have said claimed that this is unlikely due to the lightness of condensate, causing it to evaporate quickly. Since then, the tanker has been ablaze and drifting in the waters between Shanghai and southern Japan.

Search and rescue teams from the South Korean Coast Guard have been forced to stay as far as three miles away from the ferocious blaze.

It is the second crash by an Iranian oil tanker to take place in 18 months, after an Iranian supertanker crashed with a container ship in the Singapore Strait back in July 2016.

Fuel oil is relatively easy to contain because volumes are lower and its viscosity means it's easier to extract from water, but even small volumes can hurt marine life. "The fire extinguishing operation did not achieve the desired effect", it said.

The Zhoushan fishing ground where the collision occurred is known as one of the biggest in the East China Sea, particularly for mackerel and croaker, according to Greenpeace.

A Suezmax tanker can hold a maximum of 5,000 tonnes of bunker fuel to keep it running.