Jan. 15 (UPI) -- Iran's ruling cleric, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, extended condolences to the members and family of the crew of the Sanchi oil tanker, which sank offshore China.
The Sanchi collided Jan. 6 with the Chinese freighter Crystal, which was carrying grain from the United States to China. The Iranian tanker was loaded with 1 million barrels of an ultra-light form of oil called condensate when it crashed in the East China Sea. It had been burning for more than a week and finally sank Sunday, sealing the fate for the estimated 29 crew members still on board.
Officials recovered three bodies from the Sanchi -- one early last week and two others Saturday morning. The 32 crew members included 30 Iranians and two Bangladeshis.
Khamenei in a message of condolence expressed deep sorrow for the loss of life.
"These beloved ones lost their lives while on duty, serving their country," he said in his prepared remarks. "And this is a great honor that may reduce the weight of grief and soothe the agonizing hearts of their surviving kin."
The official Islamic Republic News Agency said the bodies of those recovered so far were delivered to medical authorities in Shanghai during the weekend, adding there were signs that some of the crew had died because of the exposure to toxic gases.
Crews also recovered the vessel's data recorder, known commonly as a black box. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani formed a special committee to investigate the cause of the incident last week.
Search and rescue operations were hampered by high winds and waves over the past week. Chinese vessels responding to the incident were called back Wednesday after sections of the Sanchi exploded.
Iranian Labor Minister Ali Rabiei said it was estimated that parts of the body of the burning tanker reached more than 1,600 degrees Fahrenheit, making it impossible to enter the vessel.
The State Oceanic Administration of China said during weekend there was a large amount of spilled oil burning on the surface of the water. The agency said it would monitor to spill's impact on the environment.