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Thirteen vessels - 10 Chinese, two Japanese and one from South Korea - are participating in the search and rescue operation, including searching for victims, contamination control and putting out the fire on Jan 12, 2018. [Photo/Xinhua]

Iran thanks China for efforts as oil spill, recovery issues remain

China has set up an efficient interministry coordination team to handle the aftermath of the sunken oil tanker Sanchi, which includes monitoring and cleaning up the marine oil slick that was left and conducting regular search and recovery operations, senior officials said on Friday.

"We"re now analyzing and studying the current situation as the sunken ship is still there and leaking oil," said Zhi Guanglu, deputy director of the China Maritime Search and Rescue Center, part of the Ministry of Transport. "Our mission is to remove the oil slick on the surface of the sea. And we"re also considering how to handle the tanker."

The most effective way to eradicate pollution is to recover the wreckage, but the owner"s opinion should also be considered in salvaging sunken ships as required by international agreements and laws, Zhi said at a news conference.

There are also great risks and challenges, such as the possible explosion of the highly flammable condensate oil, he said.

Zhi said China will start an investigation in accordance with international agreements and laws. Stakeholders will be invited to participate in and witness restoration of the ship"s "black box", and contact will be enhanced with the International Maritime Organization to ensure an objective and just investigation.

The Panama-registered oil tanker Sanchi, from Iran, carrying 111,300 metric tons of highly flammable condensate oil, collided with a Hong Kong-registered cargo ship about 8 pm on Jan 6 some 160 nautical miles east of Shanghai.

The Panama-registered oil tanker Sanchi is seen ablaze on Jan 7, 2018. The tanker carrying 136,000 metric tons of light crude oil has been adrift and on fire following a collision with another vessel in the East China Sea on Jan 6. [Photo/Xinhua]

The oil slick was first seen on Jan 9, but its area remained small before the ship sank. After the sinking, oil spills of different sizes were found in the area. Close monitoring has been carried out, said Huo Chuanlin, deputy director of the environmental protection department of the State Oceanic Administration.

The Sanchi had 32 crew members - 30 Iranians and two Bangladeshis. As of Friday, three bodies had been found, according to the ministry. The cargo ship"s 21 crew members were rescued.

The three bodies were handed to Iran per an agreement with the Iranian Consulate General in Shanghai, Zhi said.

Iranian Minister of Labor, Cooperatives and Social Welfare Ali Rabiei sent a letter of thanks on Wednesday to Chinese Ambassador to Iran Pang Sen. Rabiei expressed Iran"s "sincerest gratitude to the Chinese government and people, especially to the Chinese personnel who have risked their life to make every effort to rescue the tanker under the threat of toxic gas and explosion".

The minister regretted the loss of crew members, saying the support and humanitarian aid the Chinese government and people offered to Iran will be remembered forever by the Iranian people.

Xinhua contributed to this story.