Chinese authorities battling a blaze aboard an Iranian oil tanker said Wednesday no major spill has been detected, but an explosion had forced firefighting vessels temporarily to suspend work.
One body has been found but 31 sailors from the Sanchi — mainly Iranians — remained missing four days after it collided with a freighter off Shanghai.
The tanker owner said it was hopeful that some or all of the crew members were in a safe part of the vessel and would be rescued.
Cleanup and rescue ships have faced toxic fumes, rain and windy conditions as they scrambled to find survivors and avoid a massive oil slick since Saturday’s incident.
The Sanchi, carrying 136,000 tons of light crude oil, has been in flames since colliding with the CF Crystal, a Hong Kong-registered bulk freighter, 160 nautical miles east of Shanghai.
Experts had warned that a spill of the Panamanian-flagged 274-metre (899-foot) tanker’s cargo could spell environmental catastrophe, as authorities said the ship could explode or sink.
But China’s transport ministry said in a statement that as of 6:00 pm Tuesday, “no large-scale oil spills were found on the sea surface” where the search is being conducted around the stricken vessel, which continued to burn.
The oil from the tanker is condensate that is expected quickly to evaporate upon hitting the water, with “very little residue on the water’s surface”, the ministry said.
A simulation test also found that less than one percent of oil content would remain on the sea surface five hours after a condensate oil leak.
Thirteen vessels are still searching for missing crew members within 900 square nautical miles of the tanker, according to the ministry.