32 missing after tanker collision off China's coast

An Iranian oil tanker collided with a bulk freighter and caught fire off China's east coast, leaving the tanker's entire crew of 32 missing and causing it to spill oil into the sea, authorities said Sunday.

It was not known if any of the tanker's missing 32 crew members had been rescued, said the coast guard official, who declined to give his name as he was not authorised to speak to media.

The Sanchi was carrying 136,000 tonnes (or almost one million barrels) of condensate, a type of ultra-light oil, according to Chinese authorities. That is equivalent to just under 1 million barrels, worth about $60 million, based on global crude oil prices.

A photo of the accident scene broadcast on state television showed large amounts of black smoke billowing from the burning 274-metre-long oil tanker.

It had sent four rescue ships and three cleaning boats to the site by 9am (0100 GMT) on Sunday, it added.

The Chinese vessel had been damaged but "the safety of the ship was not jeopardized" and all its 21 Chinese crew had been rescued, officials from the Ministry of Transport said. The IMO listed its registered owner as Hong Kong-based Bright Shipping Ltd, on behalf of the National Iranian Tanker Co, a publicly traded company based in Tehran. The ministry said oil spilled into the sea, but did not specify the area of contamination. It was not clear, however, whether the tanker was still spilling oil.

That was nearly twice the size of the Exxon Valdez spill, which ravaged Alaska's coast in 1989.

It's the second collision a ship from the National Iranian Tanker Co has been involved in in less than a year and a half.

The Iranian tanker, Sanchi, is ablaze and leaking oil after colliding with the Hong Kong-registered vessel CF Crystal.

Hanwha Total was not immediately available for comment. Norwegian ship insurer Skuld has confirmed it was the lead hull insurer for the tanker and the protection and indemnity (P&I) insurer for CF Crystal.

"We have no information on their fate", he said.

CF Crystal, which was built in 2011, was due to arrive in China on January 10, according to Reuters ship tracking data.

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