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ASIA/PACIFIC

Toxic Spill and 32 Deaths, Iranian Tanker Sinks After Collision With Cargo Vessel

burning Iranian tanker

An Iranian tanker carrying 60 million dollars worth of oil  sunk off the coast of China, creating an environmental catastrophe for marine life in the area.

The mishap started on January 6, 2018, when the tanker Sanchi and CF Crystal, a cargo ship transporting food to Guangdong, collided about 180 miles off the mouth of the Yangtze river in China. The resulting accident caused the tanker to catch fire, with initial reports stating that the 32 crew members of the tanker were missing, Reuters reported.

Despite the efforts of rescuers and an Iranian commando unit, it is now confirmed that all the crewmen from the Panama-registered tanker have perished. Upon initially boarding the Iranian tanker, two crew members were found on deck.

The death toll for the Iranian tanker stands at 30 Iranians and 2 Bangladeshis. All 21 Chinese crewmen aboard the Hongkong-registered cargo ship CF Crystal were saved.

After the collision, the Sanchi had started drifting towards Japan, spewing a trail of fuel and ultralight crude. Attempts to extinguish the fire aboard the tanker were thwarted by thick smoke and toxic fumes.

“At this time of year the area is used as wintering ground by common edible species such as hairtail, yellow croaker, chub mackerel and blue crab. The area is also on the migratory pathway of many marine mammals, such as humpback whale, right whale and gray whale,” the environmental group Greenpeace said in a statement.

After the fires on the surface of the water had been extinguished, chemicals to dissolve the oil  were sprayed on the surface. The tanker’s black box has been recovered but as of this writing, no cause for the collision has been stated.

“Finding the black box will be helpful for all parties in correctly determining the reasons for the accident,” Lu Kang, a spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry said Monday.

At the time the surface fire was extinguished, it was decided that search and rescue operations would be suspended. Cleanup operations were then begun.

With a cargo of 136,000 tons of ultralight crude, the concern now is the growing toxic spill coming out of the tanker. A China-based correspondent from the BBC has stated that the oil slick has now doubled in size.

Unfortunately, the oil spill’s proximity to the mouth of the Yangtze can affect a number of endangered species such as the Yangtze River dolphin, the Chinese alligator, finless porpoise, Chinese paddlefish, and the Yangtze sturgeon.

The type of crude oil cargo the Sanchi carried does not show up like a traditional oil slick. It is more akin to jet fuel, and there is a concern that a plume of highly flammable condensate has formed beneath the surface of the ocean.

Up to 13 vessels, including ships from South Korea, took part in the rescue effort.

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