Burning oil tanker at risk of exploding off China's coast

An Iranian oil tanker ablaze in the East China Sea is at risk of exploding or sinking, after colliding with a Hong Kong-flagged cargo ship last Saturday

An Iranian oil tanker ablaze off the Chinese coast is at risk of exploding or sinking as officials reported there was no sign of survivors 36 hours after the vessel erupted in flames.

Fears of an environmental disaster are growing in the East China Sea, as the tanker continues to leak oil two days after colliding with a cargo ship.

The crew, 30 Iranians and two Bangladeshis, remain missing despite international rescue efforts. Rescuers attempting to reach the site were being beaten back by toxic clouds.

The extent of the spill and environmental hazard are still unclear. The accident happened on Saturday evening 160 nautical miles east of Shanghai, but the vessel was still ablaze on Monday morning.

The Panamanian-flagged 274m (899ft) tanker Sanchi is “in danger of exploding or sinking”, the ministry said.

The tanker, operated by Iran’s Glory Shipping, was heading to South Korea when it collided with a Hong Kong-flagged cargo ship, the CF Crystal, carrying 64,000 tonnes of grains.

The tanker was also carrying an ultra-light form of oil known as condensate which in the case of a spill can be more dangerous for the environment than regular crude.

Iran’s oil ministry said the tanker belonged to the National Iranian Tanker Company (NITC) and was delivering its cargo to South Korea’s Hanwha Total. The ship and its cargo were insured, a statement said

"Condensate is more likely to evaporate and mix in with the water," John Driscoll of JTD Energy Services told the BBC.

"It also can be colour- and odourless - so it is a lot harder to detect, contain and clean up."

Ten government vessels and “many fishing ships” were helping with the ongoing rescue and clean-up effort, the transportation ministry said, adding that a South Korean coast guard ship was also on the scene.

A US navy aircraft participated in the search on Sunday, scouring a large area before returning to Kadena air base in Okinawa, Japan.

The 21-strong crew of the Chinese ship were rescued.