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In this Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018, photo provided by China’s Ministry of Transport, firefighting boats work to put on a blaze on the oil tanker Sanchi in the East China Sea off the eastern coast of China. Rescue ships looking for missing crew members from the oil tanker Sanchi have expanded their search area to more than 2,600 square kilometers (1,000 square miles) as Chinese state television reported Friday that maritime authorities still have not found any survivors, or put out the blaze onboard the ship. (Ministry of Transport via AP)

Rescuers expand search for survivors of ship fire off China

BEIJING (AP) — Rescue ships looking for 31 missing crew members from a burning oil tanker have expanded their search area to more than 2,600 square kilometers (1,000 square miles), authorities said Friday.

The expanded search comes six days after the Iranian-owned Sanchi collided with a freighter in the East China Sea and burst into flames. The cause of the collision remains unclear.

Chinese state television cited officials at the scene in reporting Friday that authorities still have not found any survivors or put out the blaze on the Sanchi. One body has been recovered.

Twelve ships spraying foam are struggling to extinguish the tanker, which was carrying a cargo of nearly 1 million barrels of condensate, a type of gassy, ultra-light oil.

Search and firefighting efforts resumed Thursday after an onboard explosion rocked the tanker Wednesday. Intense flames, bad weather and poor visibility have hampered rescue efforts and Chinese authorities fear the ship could explode, potentially setting off an environmental disaster.

The Panamanian-registered vessel had a crew of 30 Iranians and two Bangladeshis. The Chinese freighter CF Crystal. had 21 crew members, who all were reported safe.

— An explosion rocked a stricken oil tanker off the coast of Shanghai on Wednesday, forcing maritime authorities to suspend firefighting and rescue efforts, Chinese officials said.

China’s ministry of transport said rescue vessels withdrew to a safe distance after the explosion on the Sanchi’s bow, the latest setback in the multinational effort to extinguish the burning wreck and find more than 30 missing crewmembers.

The ship is still on fire, the ministry said.

Chinese officials have previously warned that the tanker could explode and sink, possibly triggering an environmental disaster.

The Sanchi was carrying nearly 1 million barrels of condensate, a type of gassy, ultra-light oil, when it collided Saturday evening with a freighter 257 kilometers (160 miles) off the coast and caught fire. Intense flames, bad weather and poor visibility have hampered rescue efforts.

The entire crew of the Panamanian-registered Sanchi — 30 Iranians and two Bangladeshis — went missing after its collision with the Chinese freighter CF Crystal. The cause of the collision remains unclear.

Rescuers on Tuesday found a body believed to be a sailor from the Iranian-operated tanker, while a search continued for the 31 other missing crew members.

The National Iranian Tanker Co., the Sanchi’s operator, said Tuesday there was a chance that survivors were trapped in the ship’s engine room.

“Since the vessel’s engine room is not directly affected by the fire and is about 14 meters (46 feet) under water, there is still hope,” NITC spokesman Mohsen Bahrami told The Associated Press.

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