The crew of an Iranian oil tanker set ablaze at the weekend following a collision could still be alive, the vessel’s owner said, calling on the Chinese authorities working at the scene to prioritize a rescue attempt.
“We are still hopeful,” Captain Mohsen Bahrami, a spokesman for the Sanchi rescue committee at the National Iranian Tanker Co., said in an interview in Tehran Wednesday. “We are still hopeful that in the engine room at least some people have taken shelter and are waiting to be rescued.”
The Sanchi was set ablaze in the East China Sea after a collision Saturday with the CF Crystal, a ship hauling U.S. grains to China. The body of one of the Iranian tanker’s 32-strong crew has been recovered, but 31 remain missing. In order for the engine room to be reached, Chinese authorities would have to extinguish the fire — at least temporarily — something that would require them to step up fire-fighting efforts, Bahrami said.
Two other NITC ships are nearby and trying to help with the rescue effort, Bahrami said. In addition, Iran is flying out commandos to assist further. He said that the firefighters have been combating the blaze with water when foam would be more effective.
The size of the cargo — 111,500 metric tons of flammable condensate oil — prompted comments from environmental group Greenpeace that it could mitigate damage to the environment and China’s fishing grounds if the blaze continues, because that avoids spillage into the ocean. NITC’s priority is human life, Bahrami said.
By tackling the blaze, the worst in NITC’s 62-year history, it may also be possible to recover the Sanchi’s data recorder. That would give the company and investigators the information they need to help ascertain what happened during the incident.
The vessel’s engine room is about 30 to 40 meters wide and 18 to 20 meters high, Bahrami said. While it has some water, it has no other emergency supplies to help the crew survive if that’s where they are. The fire engulfed the ship in thick and toxic flames.
The Sanchi has full protection and indemnity insurance through the Steamship Mutual P&I club, according to its executive chairman Gary Rynsard. The incident is being treated as a “normal casualty” although it is too early to assess the size of any possible claim, he added. The cover spans oil pollution, damage, collision, death and and injury to the crew.
“We don’t have any particular information at hand, doesn’t look like there were any adverse weather conditions,” Bahrami said of the circumstances that led to the accident. “The region is busy with fishing, that could’ve had an effect but we can’t say anything at this stage.”
All the crew on the CF Crystal were rescued.
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