The extent of environmental damage from the burning Iranian oil tanker Sanchi, seen here sinking off the coast of China, could be severe. Photo by Xinhua News Agency
Jan. 9 (UPI) -- More than a dozen vessels and at least three national governments are working in response to an Iranian oil tanker still on fire off the coast of China, official media reported.
The official Islamic Republic News Agency reported 13 vessels were working either on rescue operations or controlling the fire on the Sanchi tanker, which struck a Chinese freighter off China's eastern coast last weekend.
The body of one crew member on the Iranian vessel, flagged in Panama, was recovered Monday. A statement from the Chinese government said heavy winds and high winds complicated the response on Tuesday, but the search was still on for the 31 other members of the crew.
Chinese, South Korean and U.S. authorities are cooperating on the response effort, said to cover about 900 square nautical miles.
The Iranian vessel, loaded with fuel, was on its way to South Korea with about 1 million barrels of an ultra-light form of oil called condensate when it crashed. The Chinese freighter, CF Crystal, was carrying around 64,000 tons of grain from the United States to China at the time of the incident. It was only slightly damaged and its 21 crew members were secured.
An oil slick has spread out from the Iranian tanker at a radius of about a half-mile. There's no indication so far on the extent of the potential volume spilled or level of pollution, though it could be severe.
The National Iranian Tanker Co., which carried internationally-credited insurance, said it had formed an emergency committee to investigate the cause of the incident.
This is the second accident involving an Iranian tanker in a year. An oil tanker owned by the National Iranian Tanker Co. hit a Swiss cargo ship near Singapore, though no spills or injuries were reported.
According to records reviewed by the BBC, the Exxon Valdez accident off the coast of Alaska in 1989 spilled about a quarter-million barrels of oil, but caused extensive environmental damage. The worst maritime spill occurred when 2.1 million barrels of oil spilled from the Atlantic Empress off the coast of Trinidad and Tobago in 1979. All 26 members of the crew died after it exploded when it collided with the Aegean Captain.