An Iranian oil tanker that collided with another vessel in the East China Sea and that had been burning for more than a week sank on Sunday, the Chinese Ministry of Transportation said.
“There is no hope of finding survivors,” Mahmoud Rastad, the chief of Iran’s maritime agency, said of the missing crew members, according to The Associated Press.
President Hassan Rouhani of Iran expressed his condolences and called on government agencies to investigate the tragedy and to take any necessary legal measures, according to state television.
The 899-foot vessel, the Sanchi, sank at 4:45 p.m., the Chinese ministry said.
On Saturday, a Chinese salvage team recovered two bodies from the stricken tanker, which had been at risk of exploding after it caught fire and was left adrift, the state news agency Xinhua reported. The four members of the team found the two bodies on deck.
The Panamanian-flagged vessel collided with the CF Crystal, a Hong Kong-registered bulk freighter, around 8 p.m. Jan. 6, about 160 nautical miles east of Shanghai. That area of the East China Sea is frequently crossed by ships traveling to China, South Korea, Taiwan and Japan.
All 21 Chinese crew members of the CF Crystal, which was transporting grain to Guangdong Province in southeastern China from the United States, were rescued, the Ministry of Transportation in Beijing said. The rest of the crew, including 30 Iranians and two Bangladeshis, remained missing.
The Chinese foreign minister, Wang Yi, told his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, by phone on Saturday that “as long as there is 1 percent of hope, China will continue to make 100 percent effort” in the rescue effort, according to a report on the ministry’s website.
On Monday, the body of a mariner suspected of having been on the ship was recovered and sent to Shanghai for identification.
The tanker was carrying 136,000 tons of condensate, a light oil, to South Korea from Iran, China’s Ministry of Transport said. It was not clear how much had spilled or burned off after the collision.
Members of the salvage team tried to get to the living quarters on the tanker, but they were driven back by temperatures on the burning ship of around 192 Fahrenheit (89 degrees Celsius), Xinhua said. Before sinking, the ship was at risk of exploding because of the presence of spilled oil as the fire raged, the Ministry of Transportation said.
The United States Navy also sent a P-8A Poseidon airplane from Kadena Air Base on Okinawa, Japan. It searched about 3,600 square nautical miles without locating any missing sailors, the Navy said.
The salvage team recovered the voyage data recorder, or “black box” from the bridge, before leaving the vessel less than half an hour after boarding because the wind had shifted and “thick toxic smoke” had complicated the operation, Xinhua said.
The Sanchi is owned by Bright Shipping Limited, a subsidiary of the National Iranian Tanker Company registered in Hong Kong, according to the Chinese authorities and an International Maritime Organization database.
By JAVIER C. HERNÁNDEZJAN. 14, 2018