Burning Tanker Suffers Multiple Explosions
The burning Iranian oil tanker Sanchi has drifted into Japanese waters, the Japan Coast Guard announced Friday. In a statement, the agency said that Sanchi is now about 150 nm to the northwest of Amami Oshima in the East China Sea, within Japan's exclusive economic zone. She is drifting southwards at about 1.2 knots.
In a press conference Friday, the Shanghai Maritime Safety Administration said that the fire remains large and that explosions continue on board. Blasts on the 10th and 11th forced rescue workers to retreat; the authority warned that there is a risk of a larger explosion followed by sinking.
Photos published by Chinese state media showed the Sanchi's wheelhouse charred by the flames and a fire still burning forward. She has taken on a list to starboard, and although not confirmed by official sources, the imagery suggests that she is also down by the head.
Chinese-led rescue efforts continue, but poisonous fumes from the fire and relatively poor surface conditions have added to the risks for responders. Weather reports indicate that surface winds in the area were about 15-20 knots and waves were about 1-3 meters on Friday, an improvement over conditions earlier in the week. Xinhua reports that 14 vessels are involved in the attempt to extinguish the fire, with a second wave of response ships with more firefighting foam due to arrive on Saturday.
Hope for the vessel's missing crew diminishes as the conflagration continues for a sixth day after Sanchi collided with a bulker and caught fire. However, the marine environment may not be at significant risk - at least, not as much risk as in a crude oil spill. The agency advised that the Sanchi's cargo of condensate is likely to dissipate from evaporation in the event of a release, with virtually all of it disappearing within just five hours of exposure to the atmosphere.
Sanchi had about one million barrels of condensate on board at the time of the accident, and authorities are uncertain how much of her cargo may have been released. Condensate - also known as "natural gasoline" or "drip gas" - is a low-density mixture of petroleum liquids that are extracted from "wet" natural gas. It is lighter than water, and highly volatile and flammable.