Iranian oil tanker burning off China may explode, body found in search for missing crew

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The Panama-registered tanker "Sanchi" caught fire after a collision with a Hong Kong-registered freighter off the coast of China.

The Panama-registered tanker "Sanchi" caught fire after a collision with a Hong Kong-registered freighter off the coast of China. (Korea Coast Guard)

An Iranian oil tanker that's burning out of control off the coast of China reportedly may explode and sink, even as authorities work to recover 31 missing crew members.

Another crew member has been reported dead, Chinese state media reported Monday.

The Sanchi tanker run by Iran’s top oil shipping operator, National Iranian Tanker Co, had been sailing from Iran to South Korea when it collided with the Hong Kong-registered freighter CF Crystal late Saturday in the East China Sea, about 160 miles off the coast of Shanghai, China's Ministry of Transport said.

The remains of one of the 32 mariners on board was discovered on the blazing wreck Monday afternoon, Iranian and Chinese officials confirmed to Reuters.

In this image from video run by China's CCTV shows the Panama-registered tanker "Sanchi" is seen ablaze after a collision with a Hong Kong-registered freighter off China's eastern coast, Monday, Jan. 8, 2017. The U.S. Navy has joined the search for 32 crew members missing from the oil tanker that caught fire after colliding with a bulk freighter off China's east coast. (CCTV via AP Video)

The Panama-registered tanker "Sanchi" is seen ablaze after a collision with a Hong Kong-registered freighter. (CCTV via AP)

Mohammad Rastad, head of Iran’s Ports and Maritime Organization, told the ISNA news agency the body had been sent to Shanghai for identification. The fate of the remaining 31 sailors is not known.

Search and cleanup efforts have been hampered by fierce fires and poisonous gases that have engulfed the tanker and surrounding waters, state broadcaster China Central Television reported.

China, South Korea and the U.S. have sent ships and planes to the area to search for the Sanchi's crew. The U.S. Navy sent a P-8A aircraft from Okinawa, Japan, to aid the search.

"The Chinese government takes maritime accidents like this very seriously, and has already dispatched many search and rescue teams to the scene to carry out search and rescue,” Lu Kang, a spokesman at China’s foreign ministry, told reporters at a news briefing.

In this image made from video run by China's CCTV, a rescue ship sprays water to put out a blaze at the Panama-registered tanker "Sanchi" after a collision with a Hong Kong-registered freighter off China's eastern coast, Monday, Jan. 8, 2017. The U.S. Navy has joined the search for 32 crew members missing from the oil tanker that caught fire after colliding with a bulk freighter off China's east coast. (CCTV via AP Video)

A rescue ship sprays water to put out a blaze at the Panama-registered tanker "Sanchi." (CCTV via AP)

It wasn't immediately clear what caused the initial collision, but all 21 crew members of the Crystal, which was carrying grain from the U.S. to China, were rescued, the Chinese ministry said. The Crystal's crew members were all Chinese nationals.

Kwon Yong-deok, a Korea Coast Guard official, told the Associated Press thick black smoke was still billowing from the ship on Monday afternoon and bad weather was worsening visibility at the scene. The Sanchi was carrying 150,000 tons, or nearly 1 million barrels of condensate, a type of ultra-light oil, according to Chinese authorities, who have dispatched three ships to clean the spill.

By comparison, the Exxon Valdez was carrying 1.26 million barrels of crude oil when it spilled 260,000 barrels into Prince William Sound off Alaska in 1989, badly damaging local ecology and the area's fishing-based economy.

US NAVY PLANE JOINS HUNT FOR 32 SAILORS AFTER IRANIAN TANKER COLLIDES WITH FREIGHTER OFF CHINA

The size of the oil slick from the Sanchi — and the scale of the environmental toll — may be smaller. Unlike the thick crude that gushed out of the Valdez, much of the light, gassy condensate from the Sanchi may have evaporated or burned immediately, Kwon said.

The Sanchi's own fuel that leaked during the collision will be more difficult to clean, officials said.

In this image from video run by China's CCTV shows the Panama-registered tanker "Sanchi" is seen ablaze after a collision with a Hong Kong-registered freighter off China's eastern coast, Monday, Jan. 8, 2017. The U.S. Navy has joined the search for 32 crew members missing from the oil tanker that caught fire after colliding with a bulk freighter off China's east coast. (CCTV via AP Video)

Nearly three dozen crew members were reported missing after the Panama-registered tanker "Sanchi" caught fire. (CCTV via AP)

South Korean petrochemical company Hanwha Total Co., a 50-50 partnership between the Seoul-based Hanwha Group and French oil giant Total, said in an email to the AP it had contracted the Sanchi to import Iranian condensate to South Korea.

A Hanwha Total spokesman, who asked not to be named citing office policies, said there is "little possibility" that condensate would leave traces in the ocean after it burned. He added the losses would be covered by an insurance company. The Sanchi's cargo was estimated to be worth more than $60 million.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Travis Fedschun is a reporter for FoxNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @travfed

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