Iran holds out hope for survivors on burning oil tanker

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Part of an oil tanker that has been ablaze for days off the coast of Shanghai exploded Wednesday, forcing rescue boats searching for 31 missing sailors to retreat, Chinese authorities said.

The tanker Sanchi was carrying nearly 1 million barrels of condensate, an ultra-light, highly flammable crude oil, to South Korea.

Photos on the Chinese Ministry of Transportation's microblog showed thick black smoke pouring from the ship on Thursday morning.

China's Ministry of Transport said that poor weather conditions (heavy winds, rain and high waves) has been fanning the fire and hampering efforts to bring it under control.

"Spilled oil covering the ship body and its surrounding water is still burning, which leaves Sanchi at risk of exploding and sinking", said the ministry in the statement.

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The entire crew of the Panamanian-registered Sanchi - 30 Iranians and two Bangladeshis - went missing after its collision with the Chinese freighter CF Crystal. One body suspected to be from the tanker crew was retrieved from the water this week. A flotilla of 13 search-and-rescue vessels is still looking for them in the 900-square-nautical-mile area around the oil tanker.

Tanker Sanchi was on its way to South Korea carrying 136,000 tonnes of an ultra-light crude oil that becomes highly volatile when exposed to air and water.

It is the second crash by an Iranian oil tanker to take place in 18 months, after an Iranian supertanker crashed with a container ship in the Singapore Strait back in July 2016. The cause of the collision remains unclear.

After meeting with a special investigatory committee formed by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, its spokesman, Mohammad Rastad, said that poisonous gas, Wednesday's explosion and oil pollution were complicating the response. Sailors from CF Crystal were rescued by a passing Chinese fishing boat on the night of the incident.

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