BEIJING – An explosion occurred on Wednesday on a grounded Iranian oil tanker that has been on fire in the East China Sea for the last few days, China’s Transport Ministry reported, although did not reveal the extent of the deflagration.
The oil tanker Sanchi – registered in Panama – caught fire after a collision with the Hong Kong-registered bulk freighter CF Crystal on Saturday in the East China Sea, about 160 nautical miles east of the Yangtze River estuary.
The current explosion has led to the suspension of efforts to put out the fire as the area had to evacuated for security reasons, said the ministry, which did not reveal whether the search for the 31 people missing after the accident has also been suspended.
The Chinese authorities had earlier warned of the risks of the oil tanker possibly exploding or sinking.
The ministry, however, did not provide details about the extent of the explosion in its official statement.
The Sanchi, 274 meters (899 feet) in length, was transporting 136,000 tons of condensate, made up of a mixture of hydrocarbons recovered during the processing of natural gas, from Iran to South Korea.
According to the nonprofit Greenpeace on Wednesday, the condensate is very volatile and a large part of the oil would have been consumed in the fire; however, that does not imply that it is not without environmental risks.
So far, the Chinese authorities have claimed that there has not been a major spill, but said that the search for the missing is extremely delicate given that the toxic fumes from the fire could be harmful for anyone present in the area.
The Japanese coastguard has also sent personnel to the accident spot to aid in rescue efforts and to contain the fire, the Chinese ministry added.