Body found on Iranian oil tanker following collision off the east coast of China

Martin Coulter
Panama-registered tanker 'Sanchi' on fire after the collision with a Hong Kong-registered freighter: EPA

A body, believed to be that of a sailor has been discovered by rescuers on an oil tanker which caught fire after a collision in the East China Sea.

China's transportation ministry said the body recovered has yet to be identified but was wearing a protective suit designed to withstand cold seawater.

There is no further information about 31 other people who have been missing since the Panamanian-registered Sanchi collided with a freighter late on Saturday.

Chinese media said the tanker is still on fire, and is at risk of exploding.

A rescue ship sprays water to put out the blaze on the Sanchi tanker (AP)

The tanker was carrying 136,000 metric tonnes (nearly one million barrels) of condensate, a type of gassy, ultra-light oil, when it collided with the Hong Kong-registered freighter CF Crystal.

All 21 crew members of the Crystal, which was carrying grain from the United States to China, were rescued. The crew of the Crystal were all Chinese nationals.

It is not immediately clear what caused the collision, which happened in open seas rather than in a narrow channel where such accidents are more common.

Ships of such size generally come with sophisticated radar and other technologies aimed at preventing collisions.

The Sanchi was sailing from Iran to South Korea when the collision occurred 160 miles off the coast of Shanghai.

Ships and aircraft from South Korea and the US are assisting rescue efforts, which have been hampered by fierce fires and poisonous gases which engulfed the tanker and surrounding waters.

The collision has triggered concerns of a potential environmental disaster, although condensate is more likely to evaporate or burn off immediately than thick, heavy crude oil.

However, the Sanchi's own fuel which leaked during the collision will be more difficult to clean, especially if the tanker explodes and sinks.

The tanker has operated under five different names since it was built in 2008, according the UN-run International Maritime Organisation (IMO).

The IMO listed its registered owner as Hong Kong-based Bright Shipping, on behalf of the National Iranian Tanker Company, a publicly traded firm based in Tehran.

The National Iranian Tanker Co describes itself as operating the largest tanker fleet in the Middle East.

An official in Iran's Oil Ministry said the tanker was owned by the National Iranian Tanker Co and confirmed that 30 of the tanker's 32 crew members were Iranians. The others are Bangladeshi.

It is the second collision for a ship from the National Iranian Tanker Co in less than a year and a half.

In August 2016, one of its tankers collided with a Swiss container ship in crowded waters near Singapore, damaging both ships but causing no injuries or oil spills.

Additional reporting by the Press Association

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