Dozens missing after 2 vessels collide off China coast

Oil tanker SANCHI owned by an Iranian shipping company

The Chinese Transport Ministry says 32 people, a lot of them Iranians, are missing from an oil tanker that collided with a cargo ship off the east coast of China.

Thirty Iranians and two Bangladeshis are among the missing crew members, the statement added. A Korean Coast Guard official confirmed the tanker was still on fire at 1 p.m. (0500 GMT).

Chinese maritime authorities have sent eight ships for the search and rescue operation and South Korea has sent a plane and a 3,000-tonne coastguard ship to help.

The ship was heading to South Korea with its cargo and the accident happened around 160 nautical miles east of Shanghai. "Sanchi is floating and burning as of now", it said in a statement.

Earlier Sunday, Chinese state media carried pictures of the tanker on fire with large plumes of smoke.

The tanker - carrying almost a million barrels of oil, worth about US$60m - had been sailing to Daesan in South Korea from Kharg Island in Iran, according to Reuters shipping data. Its registered owner is Bright Shipping Ltd.

The Chinese vessel had been damaged but "the safety of the ship was not jeopardized" and all its 21 Chinese crew had been rescued, officials from the Ministry of Transport said.

It was due to arrive at Daesan in South Korea from Kharg Island in Iran on Sunday, according to Reuters ship tracking.

This is the first major accident involving an Iranian oil tanker since global sanctions were lifted in January 2016. Total did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Crystal's crew members were all Chinese nationals.

There was a collision involving an NITC-operated supertanker in the Singapore Strait in August 2016, but there was no loss of life or pollution.

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