China races to prevent environmental disaster from stricken tanker

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BEIJING China raced to contain oil leaking from an Iranian tanker stricken off its eastern coast yesterday amid warnings that the burning ship could spark an environmental disaster.

The Sanchi was carrying 136,000 tonnes of light crude oil when it collided with a cargo ship on Saturday and erupted into flames 160 nautical miles east of Shanghai.

If all the cargo from the tanker spills, it would be the biggest oil slick from a ship in decades and could kill marine life across a vast area, analysts have said.

The Chinese Transport Ministry said the vessel was still burning yesterday.

"With the ship on fire, it is expected that much of this condensate oil will burn off rather than enter the water," Greenpeace East Asia said.

"However, if it sinks before the oil burns off, the cleanup procedure will be extremely difficult."

The Chinese Foreign Ministry said late on Monday that cleaning ships had been sent to prevent "secondary disasters".

The authorities have widened the search for missing crew members. The efforts were hampered by poor conditions at sea, it added, with rescuers battered by rain, wind and waves.

The Sanchi was on its way to South Korea when it collided with the CF Crystal, a Hong Kong-registered bulk freighter.

The Crystal's 21 crew members were rescued, but most of the crew members from the Sanchi are still missing, with one believed dead.- AFP