Rescue efforts have been suspended in the East China Sea after a stricken Iranian oil tanker exploded following days of fires onboard the vessel.
Although the full damage of the explosion remains unclear, the incident is just the latest setback for the multi-national rescue operation involving Chinese, South Korean, and American authorities working to locate the 31 missing crew members. It is not clear whether the explosion will cause the boat to sink.
The oil tanker, the Sanchi, was transporting around one million barrels of condensate, a lighter version of crude oil, when it crashed with a Hong Kong-bound bulk carrier around 160 miles off the coast of Shanghai. The shipment, destined for Panama, was worth around $60 million.
Extreme weather conditions—including strong winds, high waves, and toxic fumes—have so far hindered rescue efforts. Rescuers have found the body of one Iranian crew member and rescued another 21 Chinese nationals from the bulk carrier.
A spokesperson from National Iranian Tanker Company said that there remained “hope” that they would find some survivors.
“Since the vessel’s engine room is not directly affected by the fire and is about [46 feet] underwater, there is still hope,” spokesman Mohsen Bahrami told the Associated Press (AP). “We are persistently working to put out the fire and rescue possible survivors.”
The brother of one of the missing sailors, Mahmoud Abuli Ghasemabad, also told the AP that he and his family were holding out hope.
“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.
The collision has also raised fears of oil contamination, although Chinese authorities have said claimed that this is unlikely due to the lightness of condensate, causing it to evaporate quickly.
South Korean authorities have said that the flames could last for up to a month given the consequences of previous oil spills.
“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.
It is the second crash by an Iranian oil tanker to take place in 18 months, after an Iranian supertanker crashed with a container ship in the Singapore Strait back in July 2016. There was no evidence of injuries or oil contamination.