BEIJING (Reuters) - A tanker carrying Iranian oil and run by the country's top oil shipping operator was ablaze and spewing its cargo into the East China Sea on Sunday after colliding with a Chinese bulk ship, the Chinese government said.
The Sanchi tanker <C}KS7309492494>, registered in Panama, collided with the CF Crystal <C}BO7309522955> about 160 nautical miles off the coast near Shanghai on Saturday, the Ministry of Transportation said in statement.
The tanker's 32 crew members were missing.
It was sailing from Iran to South Korea, carrying 136,000 tonnes of condensate, an ultra light crude. That is equivalent to just under 1 million barrels, worth about $60 million, based on global crude oil prices.
"Sanchi is floating and burning as of now," the ministry said. "There is an oil slick and we are pushing forward with rescue efforts."
It had sent four rescue ships and three cleaning boats to site by 9 a.m. (0100 GMT), it added.
South Korea has also sent a ship and helicopter to help. A Korean Coast Guard official confirmed the tanker was still on fire at 1 p.m. (0500 GMT). He declined to be identified as he was not authorised to speak to the media.
State media CCTV showed pictures of the tanker ablaze and billowing plumes of thick dark smoke.
The government gave no details of the size of the spill.
Reuters ship tracking data shows Sanchi was built in 2008 and is managed by the National Iranian Tanker Co (NITC). Its registered owner is Bright Shipping Ltd.
It was due to arrive at Daesan in South Korea from Kharg Island in Iran on Sunday, according to Reuters ship tracking.
The tanker, leased by Hanwha Total Petrochemical Co Ltd [SMCHE.UL], had "valid foreign insurance", Iranian oil ministry spokesman Kasra Nouri told Iran's state television.
Hanwha Total was not immediately available for comment.
Sanchi collided with CF Crystal, registered in Hong Kong, which was carrying 64,000 tonnes of grain from the United States to China's southern province of Guangdong, the government said.
CF Crystal's 21 crew members, all Chinese nationals, have been rescued. It was due to arrive on Jan. 10, according to Reuters ship tracking data.
CF Crystal, which was built in 2011, suffered "non-critical" damage, China's transport ministry said.
The collision is the second in recent years involving an NITC-operated vessel. In August 2016, an Iranian supertanker hit a container ship in the Singapore Strait, with no loss of life or pollution.
(Reporting by Meng Meng and Josephine Mason; Additional reporting from Yuna Park and Jane Chung in SEOUL, Janathan Saul in LONDON and Dubai Newsroom; Editing by Himani Sarkar and Clarence Fernandez)