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Iranian tanker ablaze after colliding with freighter off China; 32 missing

Iranian tanker ablaze after colliding with freighter off China; 32 missing
The Panamanian-flagged tanker Sanchi ablaze after colliding with a freighter off China. (Korea Coast Guard / AFP/Getty Images)

An Iranian oil tanker collided with a bulk freighter and caught fire off China's eastern coast, leaving its entire crew of 32 missing, most of them Iranians, authorities said Sunday.

The missing — 30 Iranians and two Bangladeshis — are all from the tanker Sanchi, which spilled oil and was floating while still burning early Sunday, said Chinese maritime authorities, who dispatched police vessels and three cleaning ships to the scene.

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The South Korean coast guard also sent a ship and an airplane to aid the search effort.

The Panama-registered tanker was sailing from Iran to South Korea when it collided with the Hong Kong-registered freighter CF Crystal 160 miles from shore late Saturday, the Ministry of Transport said.

All 21 members of the Crystal's crew — all Chinese nationals — were rescued, the ministry said.

It wasn't immediately clear what caused the collision.

The tanker has operated under five different names in the time since it was built in 2008, according the U.N.-run International Maritime Organization. The IMO listed its registered owner as Hong Kong-based Bright Shipping Ltd., care of the National Iranian Tanker Co., a publicly traded company based in Tehran. The National Iranian Tanker Co. describes itself as operating the largest tanker fleet in the Middle East.

An official in Iran's Oil Ministry, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to journalists, said that 30 of the 32 crew members on the ship were Iranians.

"We have no information on their fate," he said. "We cannot say all of them are dead, because rescue teams are there and providing services."

He said the tanker had been rented by a South Korean company, Hanwha Total Co. He said the tanker was on its way to South Korea.

Hanwa Total is a 50-50 partnership between the Seoul-based Hanwha Group and the French oil giant Total. Total did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

It's the second collision for a ship from the National Iranian Tanker Co. in less than a year and a half. In August 2016, one of its tankers collided with a Swiss container ship in the Singapore Strait, damaging both ships but causing no injuries or oil spill.

UPDATES:

1:05 a.m.: Updated with background on the ships and a quote.

This article was first published at 9:55 p.m.

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