Iran official: ‘No hope’ sailors alive on burning oil tanker

Mohsen Bahrami
Mohsen Bahrami, a spokesman for National Iranian Tanker Company, NITC, speaks during an interview with The Associated Press at the headquarters of the NITC, in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018. The Iranian company whose oil tanker burst into flames after a collision in the East China Sea says there is still hope of finding survivors. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — A burning Iranian tanker listing for days off the coast of China after a collision with another vessel sank Sunday, with an Iranian official saying there was “no hope” of survival for the 29 missing sailors onboard.

Iranian state television reported that the Sanchi had sunk Sunday, days after its collision in the East China Sea. An anchorwoman on state television also offered condolences on behalf of the nation for the loss.

State TV quoted Mahmoud Rastad, the chief of Iran’s maritime agency, as saying: “There is no hope of finding survivors among the (missing) 29 members of the crew.”

President Hassan Rouhani expressed his condolences and called on relevant government agencies to investigate the tragedy and take any necessary legal measures, according to state TV.

Chinese officials could not be immediately reached for comment Sunday night, though the state-run broadcaster CGTN reported that the Sanchi had sunk. CGTN also said the ship’s voice data recorder, which functions like “black boxes” on aircraft, had been recovered.

The cause of the collision, 257 kilometers (160 miles) off the coast of Shanghai, remains unclear. Three bodies have been recovered from the sea, leaving 29 crew members still unaccounted for. The crew was all Iranian expect for two Bangladeshis.

The Chinese freighter CF Crystal, which collided with the Panamanian-registered tanker, had 21 crew members, all of whom were reported safe.

Television footage Saturday showed parts of the Sanchi still aflame, its hull and superstructure completely stripped of paint.

Thirteen ships, including one from South Korea and two from Japan, were engaged in the rescue and cleanup effort Saturday, spraying foam in an effort to extinguish the fire. The tanker was carrying a cargo of nearly 1 million barrels of condensate, a type of gassy, ultra-light oil that readily evaporates or burns off in a fire, reducing the chance of a major oil spill.

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

The tanker has operated under five different names since it was built in 2008, according to the U.N.-run International Maritime Organization. The National Iranian Tanker Co. describes itself as operating the largest tanker fleet in the Middle East.

It’s 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 the Singapore Strait, damaging both ships but causing no injuries or oil spill.
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Associated Press writer Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.