Questions, Doubts Arise After Sanchi Goes Down

Questions, Doubts Arise After Sanchi Goes DownQuestions, Doubts Arise After Sanchi Goes Down

Iranian-owned tanker Sanchi on Saturday fell apart and sank in the sea off the coast of China after burning for eight straight days following a maritime collision.

The country is mourning the loss of 32 crew members of the vessel that was ferrying 1 million barrels of condensate, worth around $60 million, from the Persian Gulf to South Korea. Officials and the general public are now raising questions over the cause of the incident and whether efforts to save the ship and its passengers were adequate.

China, whose search and rescue teams led efforts to tame the Sanchi blaze, is in the public crosshairs.

Mohsen Bahrami, a spokesperson of the National Iranian Tanker Company, who frequently provided updates on Sanchi, has accused China of "deliberately" dragging out the firefighting mission, apparently on the ground that China preferred to see the condensate burn off to avoid an oil spill and its potentially costly environmental implications, Shana reported.

Billed as the "worst oil ship disaster" in decades, Sanchi produced a 10-mile (16-kilometer) long oil slick as black smoke continued to billow from the site, Reuters reported on Monday, citing Chinese media and Japanese authorities.

"China could have sent more vessels to battle the fire … If operations were underway day and night, the fate of the crew could have been ascertained," Bahrami said on the national television last week.

According to reports, operations were halted at nights and resumed every day at around 5 a.m. local time. According to Bahrami, a partial explosion overnight, which could otherwise be avoided if operations were underway, eventually led to the ship's collapse on Saturday.

Iran's Cooperatives Minister Ali Rabiei, who traveled to China last week as the head of a special committee to probe the incident, was told by Chinese officials that there was no hope of finding survivors aboard the ship.

"The incident is unprecedented in the maritime history. We were told from the beginning that nobody would be alive, but we made every effort, hoping to save even one person," Rabiei was quoted as saying by IRNA on Sunday.

Chinese authorities have denied Iran's demand to inspect a cargo ship that collided with Sanchi on Jan. 6, fuelling valid questions and concerns regarding the cause of the incident.

  Bodies, Black Box

Three bodies have been found and the ship's Voyage Data Recorder, or black box, has been retrieved.

According to a deputy at Iran's Ports & Maritime Organization, the black box will be examined in the presence of Iranian, Chinese and Panamanian officials in Panama, as the ship was sailing under Panama's flag.

Captain Fazlollah Rabiei, a maritime insurance expert, is doubtful about the chain of events.

"It should be clarified as to why the Chinese halted operations on the night of the incident and did not use aerial platforms to put out the fire," the expert told Mehr News Agency on Monday.

"It seems that the Chinese, confident about the death of Iranian sailors since the early hours, opted to let condensate burn inside the tanker so that it does not spill into the water," he said.

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 waters was on fire.

The sinking marks the biggest tanker spill since 1991, when 260,000 tons of oil leaked off the Angolan coast.


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