All 32 crew of the Iranian tanker Sanchi, 164,154dwt, died in a fire that swept the ship following a collision with a bulk carrier on Jan 6 off the east coast of China.
The Panamanian-flagged tanker was owned by Bright Shipping Ltd and managed by the National Iranian Tanker Co of Iran. She had loaded a cargo of 136,000 tonnes of refined condensate at Kharg Island, Iran, which was to be unloaded in South Korea.
The tanker was some 180 miles from Shanghai when the collision occurred with the Hong Kong-flagged bulk carrier CF Crystal, 75,725dwt, managed by Shanghai CF Int Ship Management, which suffered bow damage, but none of her crew of 21 were injured. Following the collision, there was a huge explosion on the Sanchi and the resulting fire among her cargo quickly spread and then burned for several days. The tanker developed a list to port and some of her cargo spilled into the sea.
The Iranian Ports & Maritime Organisation (PMO) said the Chinese rescue organisation had initially deployed eight vessels to put out the fires and to curb any pollution. The rescue teams had worked round the clock to try and find any survivors, but their efforts had been hampered as their vessels could not get too close due to the fierce fires, poisonous fumes and the thick black smoke. As well as the Chinese rescue teams, the US Navy and the South Korean Marine Police had joined the rescue efforts on Jan 7.
A US Navy P-8A aircraft, of Patrol Squadron Eight, from the Kadena Air Base on Okinawa, Japan, joined the search for survivors on Jan 7, but failed to find any of the tanker’s crew, which comprised 30 Iranians and two from Bangladesh. On Jan 8, the PMO said the body of one of the missing seafarers had been found on board the still-burning tanker and was recovered and taken to Singapore.
An explosion on board the Sanchi on Jan 10 sent the 14 vessels involved in the operation away from the ship for safety reasons, but they returned later. It was also reported on Jan 10 that the CF Crystal had arrived at the Chinese port of Zhoushan and that officials investigating the cause of the collision had boarded her to interview her crew.
That day, the strong winds blew the Sanchi into Japanese waters and the Japanese Coastguard offered help to the Chinese teams, but it was refused. Japan deployed patrol vessels and aircraft to monitor the incident. By the afternoon of Jan 11, the burning tanker was about 180 miles north-west of Sokkozaki on the island of Amami Oshima and was drifting south.
A National Iranian Tanker Co official had suggested that there might be survivors still on board the Sanchi who had sought shelter in her engine room which was not directly affected by the fires and was below the waterline.