A tanker carrying almost a million barrels of Iranian condensate to South Korea collided with a Chinese freighter in the South China Sea on Saturday, catching fire that rescue teams are still trying to put out today. The 32 members of the tanker’s crew are still missing. The U.S. Navy joined the search and rescue efforts yesterday, sending a military aircraft to the area, which spans 3,600 square nautical miles.
The vessel’s cargo is worth around US$60 million at current crude oil prices.
The tanker, Panama-registered Sanchi, also spilled some oil that the rescue teams from China and South Korea are currently dealing with. Early estimates based on the size of the load suggest that the spill could turn out to be the worst since 1991, when the ABT Summer tanker exploded near the coast of Angola, spilling more than 250,000 tons of crude.
The rescue and cleanup crews have had a difficult time trying to reach the tanker because of poor weather in the area. Speed is of the essence, as condensate is potentially much more dangerous than regular crude oil as it is much less dense and extremely toxic as well as very flammable. To make matters worse, it is colorless and odorless, making detection very challenging.
The Chinese freighter that the tanker collided with was carrying wheat from the United States and sustained limited damage, with all crew members present and accounted for. Related: China Is About To Shake Up Oil Futures
The company that bought the condensate is South Korean Hanwa Total Petrochemical, a joint venture between South Korean Hanwa General Chemicals and French Total. At the moment, it is trying to find a replacement for the lost cargo. A spokesman told Reuters that there are three alternatives: Hanwa can use condensate it has in stock, order another cargo from Iran, or approach Qatar as an alternative supplier.
The collision has not affected traffic in the Shanghai port, which is one of the busiest in the world. At the time of writing, the tanker was still burning, with Chinese authorities warning there was a risk of an explosion.
By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com
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