Burning oil tanker drifts into Japan's EEZ

The rescue operations of the 31 crew members of the Iranian oil tanker on the day of the epiphany in the China Sea after a collision with a Hong Kong cargo ship were resumed in impossible conditions.

Lashing winds, high waves and toxic gases are hindering dozens of rescue boats struggling to locate missing sailors from a stricken oil tanker in the East China Sea and to extinguish a fire that has burned for the past three days on the ship.

An Iranian crude oil tanker, Sanchi, collided with Chinese freighter CF Crystal during the weekend.

The ship, which has been ablaze for nearly a week since the collision on January 6, is now about 286 kilometers northwest of the Japanese island of Amami Oshima, part of the Ryukyu chain that includes Okinawa, the coast guard said.

Fourteen ships are carrying out emergency response work, including one from Japan and two from South Korea, China's transport ministry said.

Firefighting operations were suspended on Wednesday (10 January), after an explosion rocked the vessel. Intense flames, bad weather and poor visibility have hampered rescue efforts and Chinese authorities fear the ship could explode, potentially setting off an environmental disaster.

Hassan Qashqavi, an Iranian deputy foreign minister, told the official Islamic Republic News Agency there was still a chance that some of the crew on the Sanchi may have survived. The CF Crystal suffered limited damage and the 21 crew members, all Chinese nationals, were rescued.

The ministry statement also confirmed a Japanese maritime police vessel had attended the fire.

The Chinese government said late on Tuesday it had not found a "large-scale" oil leak, and the condensate was burning off or evaporating so quickly that it would leave little residue - less than 1 percent - within five hours of a spill.

An official from South Korea's Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries was quoted in a Reuters report as saying the fire could last for weeks.

Trying to contain a spill of condensate, which is extremely low in density, highly toxic and much more explosive than normal crude oil, may be hard. The freighter's 22 crew members were all reported safe.

The collision between the two vessels happened at 1600 on 6 January and caused a fire to engulf Sanchi, which is carrying some 136,000 tonnes of highly volatile condensate ultra-light crude, or the equivalent of about 1M barrels of oil.

The U.S. Navy joined the search and rescue efforts on Sunday, sending a military aircraft to the area, which spans 3,600 square nautical miles.

Vanessa Coleman