Oil tanker Sanchi partially explodes in East China Sea

Smoke and flames coming from the burning oil tanker Sanchi at sea off the coast of eastern China

China's Ministry of Foreign affairs said on Wednesday that 12 vessels were searching for the missing sailors in the tanker's vicinity before the explosion, and efforts were continuing to clean up any spilled light crude. Officials worry that the explosion might sink the ship, releasing its 1 million barrels of oil into the water.

The Sanchi was carrying almost one million barrels of condensate - a type of gassy, ultra-light oil - when it collided on Saturday evening with a freighter 160 miles from Shanghai and caught fire. That warning of a potential environmental disaster has come for South Korea's Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries.

The cause of the collision and damage to the tanker were not clear.

Harsh weather conditions have reportedly hindered the rescue effort with strong winds, high waves and toxic gases stopping rescue boats from locating missing sailors.

"We believe flames would last for two weeks or a month considering previous cases of oil tank accidents", South Korean official Park Sung-Dong told Reuters. Rescues have also faced the threat of poisonous fumes from the hulking wreck.

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Even after parts of it exploded, and while it's still on fire, an Iranian diplomat said Thursday the crew on the oil tanker Sanchi may yet be alive.

Rescuers from China, South Korea, and Japan have been struggling to control the blaze and find survivors, if any. So far, no survivors from the tanker have been found and only one body was recovered.

"Since the vessel's engine room is not directly affected by the fire and is about [46 feet] under water, there is still hope", spokesman Mohsen Bahrami said late Tuesday.

"I ask countries that are in that region and can offer any assistance to help us deal with this situation as soon as possible", Ghasemabadi said.

Iran's Shana news agency reported that the Sanchi was managed by the National Iranian Tanker Company and that its cargo was worth around $60 million.

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