Friday, January 19, 2018

East China Sea slick fire from sunken oil tanker burns out

January 15, 2018 by  
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BEIJING — The fire from a sunken Iranian tanker ship in the East China Sea has burned out, a Chinese transport ministry spokesman said Monday, although concerns remain about possible major pollution to the sea bed and surrounding waters.

The spokesman, who identified himself only by his surname, Zhao, said the fire ceased around noon. Earlier footage showed huge clouds of thick smoke rising from the oil slick.

Just three bodies from the tanker Sanchi’s crew of 32, composed of 30 Iranians and two Bangladeshis, have been recovered.

The cause of the Jan. 6 collision between the Sanchi and the Chinese freighter CF Crystal, which happened 257 kilometers (160 miles) east of Shanghai, remains unclear. All 21 crewmembers aboard the freighter were reported safe.

Rescuers boarded the Sanchi on Saturday morning to recover two bodies, but a large explosion shook the ship around noon on Sunday and it sank within hours. High temperatures had prevented rescuers from entering the crew quarters.

The ship was carrying a type of hydrocarbon liquid known as natural gas condensate and left a 10-square-kilometer (3.8-square-mile) area contaminated with oil, according to Chinese authorities. Condensate is highly toxic but readily evaporates or burns off in a fire. If trapped underwater, however, it could seriously harm the marine environment, while the ship’s fuel source also poses a major threat.

The ship’s voice data recorder, which functions like a “black box” on aircraft, was reportedly recovered on Saturday, possibly helping shed light on how the collision and resulting fire occurred.

Zhao, who is deputy head of the ministry’s press office, said new photos and video footage showed the fire had gone out entirely and said an investigation into the disaster would be conducted according to the “strictest international standards.”

Chinese state broadcaster CCTV said rescue operations had been converted at noon to a search-and-recovery effort. Two ships were on the scene spraying foam detergents to dissolve oil remaining on the surface.

The disaster has transfixed an Iran still reeling from days of protests and unrest that swept the country at the start of the year.

Families of the sailors wept and screamed at the headquarters of the National Iranian Tanker Co. in Tehran, the company that owns the Sanchi. Some needed to be taken by ambulance to nearby hospitals as they were so overwhelmed by the news.

State TV earlier quoted Mahmoud Rastad, the chief of Iran’s maritime agency, as saying: “There is no hope of finding survivors among the (missing) 29 members of the crew.”

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei both expressed their condolences, with Rouhani calling on relevant government agencies to investigate the tragedy and take any necessary legal measures. The government also announced Monday as a nationwide day of public mourning over the disaster.

Chinese officials blamed poor weather for complicating their rescue efforts. Thirteen ships, including one from South Korea and two from Japan, had joined in the rescue and cleanup effort.

The Panamanian-flagged, 85,462-ton tanker has operated under five different names since it was built in 2008, according to the U.N.-run International Maritime Organization and the industry website Maritime Traffic.

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.

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Associated Press writers Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Mohammad Nasiri in Tehran, Iran, contributed to this report.

Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Sheriff: Casino shuttle boat ablaze in Florida, all 50 passengers safe

January 15, 2018 by  
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Updated 5 hours ago

TAMPA — A boat shuttling patrons to a casino ship off the Florida Gulf Coast became swiftly engulfed by flames Sunday afternoon, and dozens of passengers and crew escaped by jumping into chilly waters near shore, authorities said.

Fifteen people complaining of chest pain, smoke inhalation and other minor injuries were taken to the hospital to be checked, authorities said, adding no injuries were life-threatening.

Port Richey Chief of Police Gerard DeCanio said all 50 passengers and the crew reached safety as the fast-spreading flames consumed the shuttle boat just off the shore, sending a huge plume of dark smoke across sunny skies on an unusually chilly winter day in the Tampa Bay region.

“It looked pretty dramatic because the shuttle boat burned really fast,” DeCanio said.

A witness told The Tampa Bay Times that she heard screams before he saw the smoke rising.

“They didn’t have much time to decide whether or not to jump,” said Bakr Jandali, 19. “It was a hard jump.”

The passengers had to jump about 12 feet into the chilly waters, and then received help from area residents who offered them towels, socks and water to drink.

DeCanio said the shuttle boat was close to shore when it experienced engine problems after leaving the dock at Port Richey, a suburban community about 35 miles northwest of Tampa. He said the crew decided to turn back veering close to a residential area as smoke belched and flames then kicked up.

Pasco County Fire Rescue official Shawn Whited said passengers on board the vessel jumped to get away from the fire and swam the chilly waters to shore, while some were rescued by other boats. A multiagency rescue operation was conducted as the boat burned just offshore.

News footage at the site showed survivors cloaked in blankets trying to warm themselves after reaching safety.

The shuttle boat regularly carries people back and forth from the Tropical Breeze Casino Cruise, which is offshore because it can’t legally operate close to land, according to authorities. They said the shuttle vessel was headed out to the casino ship at the time.

Tropical Breeze Casino Cruises didn’t immediately respond late Sunday to calls for information.