China races to prevent environmental disaster from stricken tanker

The Sanchi was carrying 136,000 tonnes of light crude oil when it collided with a cargo ship (AFP Photo/Handout)

China raced to contain oil leaking from an Iranian tanker stricken off its eastern coast Tuesday amid warnings the burning ship could spark an environmental disaster.

The Sanchi was carrying 136,000 tonnes of light crude oil when it collided with a cargo ship on Saturday and erupted into flames 160 nautical miles east of Shanghai.

If all the cargo from the Panamanian-flagged 274-metre (899-foot) tanker spills, it would be the biggest oil slick from a ship in decades and could kill marine life across a vast area, analysts have said.

The transport ministry said the vessel was still burning on Tuesday. It released a photo of the Sanchi enveloped in smoke and flames.

"With the ship on fire, it is expected that much of this condensate oil will burn off rather than enter the water," Greenpeace East Asia said in a statement to AFP.

"However, if the ship sinks before the oil burns off, the cleanup procedure would be extremely difficult. What is important now is to understand how much of that oil has burned off, and how much is leaking into the sea."

The Chinese foreign ministry said late Monday that cleaning ships had been sent to prevent "secondary disasters".

Authorities widened the search on Tuesday for 31 missing crew members, with 13 search-and-rescue vessels "carrying out an uninterrupted search within 900 square nautical miles" of the tanker, China's ministry of transpo....

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