Stricken tanker leaves 16km-long oil slick in East China Sea

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TOKYO/BEIJING: The burning Iranian oil tanker that sank in the East China Sea on Sunday in the worst oil ship disaster in decades has produced a 16km-long oil slick as black smoke continued to billow from the site, Chinese media and Japanese authorities said yesterday.

Three bodies have been recovered and the rest of the 32-member crew are presumed dead, said Iranian officials.

Chinese state TV China Central Television (CCTV) said the slick was one to four nautical miles wide and had grown several times in size since Sunday, stirring worries about damage to the marine ecosystem.

The slick was discovered east of where the ship sank on Sunday, CCTV reported yesterday.

The tanker Sanchi, which was carrying 136,000 tonnes - almost one million barrels - of condensate, an ultralight, highly flammable crude oil, sank after explosions weakened the hull. It had been adrift and ablaze after crashing into the freighter CF Crystal on Jan 6.

China's State Oceanic Administration said on Sunday that because the explosions had ruptured the hull of the ship, a large amount of oil in surrounding water was on fire.

Black smoke was still billowing from the site, the Japan Coast Guard said yesterday.

It sent two patrol boats and an air plane to the area to search for missing crew members, a spokesman said.

The ship's last confirmed location was 315km west of Sokkozaki on the island of Amami Oshima, one of the northern islands in the Ryukyu island chain that includes Okinawa.

A Chinese salvage team on Saturday recovered two bodies from the tanker, China's state news agency Xinhua reported.

Another body, presumed to be one of Sanchi's sailors, was found on Jan 8. The crew consisted of 30 Iranians and two Bangladeshis.

The salvage team recovered Sanchi's "black box", Xinhua also said on Saturday. - REUTERS