A stricken Iranian oil tanker which is on fire in the East China Sea could burn for as long as one month, South Korea’s Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries says.
- There are growing concerns the ship may explode or sink
- Flames could “last for two weeks or a month”, South Korean official says
- Ship was loaded with $US60 million worth of light oil
The blaze, started by a collision with a freight ship, was raging for a fourth day on Wednesday.
Dozens of rescue boats battled strong winds, high waves and poisonous fumes to comb a 3,100-square-kilometre area for 31 missing sailors and tame the fire, amid growing concerns the ship may explode or sink.
“We believe flames would last for two weeks or a month considering previous cases of oil tank accidents,” ministry official Park Sung-dong said.
“What we are concerned about at this moment is the bunker fuel, which could contaminate water if [the ship] sinks.”
The tanker Sanchi, run by Iran’s top oil shipping operator, National Iranian Tanker Co, collided on Saturday with the CF Crystal, carrying grain from the United States, about 300 kilometres off China’s coast near Shanghai.
The Sanchi was carrying 136,000 tonnes of condensate, an ultra-light crude that is highly flammable, to South Korea.
It was equivalent to about 1 million barrels and worth about $US60 million.
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 it would leave little residue — less than 1 per cent — within five hours of a spill.
That reduces the chances of a crude-style oil slick.
Still, condensate is highly volatile when exposed to air and water, and concerns were growing the tanker could explode and sink.
The ministry official said the authorities suspected the tanker caught fire as soon as it hit the freighter.
Mr Sung-dong said it was unlikely the oil would spread to South Korea because the tanker had moved 100 kilometres to the south-east.
The disaster has the potential to be the worst since 1991 when 260,000 tonnes of oil leaked off the Angolan coast.