Iranian criticism grows as China struggles to end tanker fire

A Chinese offshore supply ship "Shen Qian Hao" spraying foam on the burning oil tanker "Sanchi" at sea off the coast of eastern China. Chinese authorities battling a blaze aboard an Iranian oil tanker, said on Jan. 10 no major spill has been detected, but an explosion had forced firefighting vessels temporarily to suspend work. (AFP)
Updated 11 January 2018

Iranian criticism grows as China struggles to end tanker fire

BEIJING: Chinese firefighters spent on Thursday struggling to extinguish a blaze on a stricken oil tanker as criticism mounted in Iran if enough was being done to locate dozens of its missing crew members.
The Sanchi, carrying 136,000 tons of light crude oil from Iran, has been in flames since colliding with the CF Crystal, a Hong Kong-registered bulk freighter, 160 nautical miles east of Shanghai on Saturday.
One body has been found but 31 sailors — mainly Iranians — remain missing with officials in Iran hoping they have found sanctuary on an unaffected part of the vessel.
Cleanup and rescue ships have faced toxic fumes, rain and windy conditions as they scrambled to find survivors and avoid a massive oil slick since Saturday’s incident.
China’s Transport Ministry said Thursday evening the Panamanian-flagged 274-meter tanker remained on fire, adding two ships had spent the day spraying the vessel with retardant foam.
But rescue efforts were still being hampered by “terrible” weather conditions and toxic gases from the burning oil which “pose a great danger to rescuers,” the ministry said in a statement.
Of the 30 Iranians and two Bangladeshis on the Sanchi’s crew, only one body has so far been found and there has been no word from them since the collision.
Operated by Iran’s National Iranian Tanker Company (NITC), the vessel was taking light crude oil condensate to South Korea.
On Thursday the Iranian Merchant Mariners Syndicate, an industry NGO, said it had written to Chinese authorities expressing frustration at the lack of progress in putting out the fire.
“It was clear that the Chinese are not cooperating enough,” IMMS vice president Saman Rezaie, told AFP.
Iranian news website Khabar Online published video interviews with some of the relatives of those missing.
“I don’t know what else to say but just beg them to rescue them as I am sure that they are alive inside,” said one woman, who identified herself as the wife of the Sanchi’s chief engineer.
Other relatives said they thought the fire should have been extinguished by now.
An NITC spokesperson had previously suggested China might be more concerned with stopping a major oil leak in waters important to their fishing industry than rushing to save crew members.
The 21 Chinese crew member of the Crystal, which did not burst into flames, were all rescued.

Farmer turns ferryman as river engulfs Syrian hometown

Updated 3 min 51 sec ago

Farmer turns ferryman as river engulfs Syrian hometown

  • The father of four is working long hours each day paddling his boat around the streets helping stricken residents to get their children to school, do the shopping or check on relatives

DARKUSH, Syria: The alleyways of the Syrian town of Darkush are normally thronged with pedestrians but since the swollen Orontes River burst its banks, Abu Ihab’s boat has provided the main way of getting around.

The 49-year-old farmer normally takes a well-earned rest in January when winter frosts turn his fields as hard as rock.

But this year, days of torrential rain in the mountains of Lebanon has sent a deluge downstream, submerging the streets of his hometown under as much as 5 feet of water.

So instead the father of four is working long hours each day paddling his boat around the streets helping stricken residents to get their children to school, do the shopping or check on relatives.

“In winter, I don’t usually leave the house much as it is cold and it rains. But this year I felt that people needed me,” he says as he provides yet another ferry ride to grateful fellow townspeople.

Abu Ihab normally uses his boat for summer fishing on the Orontes to supplement his farm produce.

He is one of the few in the town to own one so he offers his services for free, delivering fresh bread from the bakery or ferrying excited children on an unaccustomed school run by boat.

“Today, people are staying at home. They can’t even get to the shops to buy food,” he says, wearing a woolly hat and jacket against the cold.

It is not the first year that he has provided his free boat service. “Most years there are spates but this year is a really big one because of the torrential rains,” he says.

The ground floors of houses close to the river have been inundated.

The Arab town close the Turkish border lies in Idlib province which is largely under the control of militants led by Al-Qaeda’s former Syria branch.

Across the province, the torrential rains have triggered flash floods that have caused widespread hardship, particularly in the vast tent cities set up for the displaced.

Civilians who have fled other parts of Syria recaptured by government forces make up around half of the resident population of Idlib and neighboring opposition-held areas.