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Explosions Again Hampering Rescue Of Iranian Tanker Crew

The Sanchi tanker ablaze in the East China Sea on January 7

An Iranian oil tanker that has been on fire and drifting in the East China Sea since last week has experienced several more explosions, hampering efforts to put out the fire and rescue 31 missing crew members, Chinese state media reported.

Japan's Coast Guard said on January 12 that the ship has drifted away from the Chinese coast near Shanghai, where it caught fire in a collision with a freighter, and is now located in waters within Japan's exclusive economic zone .

The ship, which has been ablaze for almost a week since the collision on January 6, is now about 286 kilometers northwest of the Japanese island of Amami Oshima, part of the Ryukyu chain that includes Okinawa, the coast guard said.

There have been continuous explosions onboard the ship, China's official Xinhua news agency said late on January 12, citing China's Ministry of Transport.

"If it had not been for an explosion this morning, maybe the fire would have been extinguished by now," said Hadi Haghshenas, deputy director for Iran's Ports and Maritime Organization, in an interview on January 12 with Iranian state broadcaster IRIB.

The tanker Sanchi, owned by Iran's top oil shipping operator National Iranian Tanker Co, was carrying almost 1 million barrels of condensate, an ultra-light, highly flammable and explosive fuel, to South Korea.

It collided with the freighter CF Crystal that was carrying grain from the United States about 184 kilometers off China's coast near Shanghai.

Haghshenas said two fire emergency consultants from the Netherlands and Germany have been hired "who are now at the scene giving advice to the Chinese."

Fourteen ships are carrying out emergency response work, including one from Japan and two from South Korea, China's transport ministry said.

The Sanchi had a crew of 32 sailors at the time of the collision. The body of a mariner suspected to be from the ship was recovered on January 8 and sent to Shanghai for identification.

The rest of the crew, which included 30 Iranians and two Bangladeshis, remains missing.

Twelve Iranian rescue workers had been brought to Shanghai to help and will join rescue work soon, Lu Kang, a spokesman from China's foreign ministry, told a regular briefing.

Iranian officials have criticized China's rescue efforts, but the Chinese transport ministry has insisted that "terrible" weather conditions and toxic gases from the burning oil have been hindering operations.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman told AFP that Beijing has put "a high degree of emphasis on the rescue work" and maintains "a welcoming and open attitude towards other countries coming to participate."

With reporting by AFP and Reuters
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