China tanker fire: Bodies found as Sanchi still burns

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Media captionFootage of the rescue work taken on Thursday. The fire is still burning

Salvage workers have managed to board a burning oil tanker off China’s coast, recovering the bodies of two crewmen before smoke forced them to leave.

The Sanchi is still ablaze one week after a collision with a cargo ship.

The salvage team also recovered the ship’s “black box” recording unit.

The bodies of only three of the 32 crewmen – 30 Iranians and two Bangladeshis – have so far been found. A team of Iranian commandos has now joined the operation.

The tanker was heading to Iran at the time of the collision last Saturday night.

Wind switch

The four-member salvage team wore respirators as they boarded the Sanchi, China’s Xinhua state news agency said.

An attempt to reach the living quarters failed as the workers were beaten back by temperatures of around 89C (192F).

The rescue mission lasted only about an hour as a change in wind made it too dangerous to remain in the thick toxic smoke, Xinhua reported.

The Iranian commandos have joined the operation but it is not known what role they have so far played.

Some 15 vessels are taking part in the salvage operation but bad weather and the state of the Sanchi continue to hamper the work.

On Friday, a new explosion dashed hopes the fire might burn out.

The tanker has also been drifting eastwards from the collision point, 260km (160 miles) off Shanghai, towards the Japanese island of Okinawa, and is now about 200km off its coast.

But Chinese officials say no large oil spill has been detected so far.

The Sanchi had on board 136,000 tonnes of condensate, which is an ultra-light version of crude oil.

The Panama-flagged vessel was bringing the condensate from Iran to South Korea when the collision with the Hong Kong-registered freighter CF Crystal, carrying grain from the US, happened in the East China Sea. The crewmen of the Crystal were all rescued.

The cause of the collision is still not known.

Condensate is very different from the black crude that is often seen in oil spills.

It is toxic, low in density and considerably more explosive than regular crude.

Condensate creates products such as jet fuel, petrol, diesel and heating fuel.

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