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Iranian and HK ships collide off Japan, biggest oil spill since 1991

THE wreck of the National Iranian Tanker Company's (NITC) sunken Suezmax Sanchi has been located in 115 metres of water in the East China Sea, Reuters reports.

The Sanchi's crew of 30 Iranians and two Bangladeshis are all believed to have been lost. It is the biggest tanker spill since 1991, when 260,000 tonnes of oil spilled off Angola. 

The 164,154-dwt Sanchi had been adrift and ablaze after colliding with the 75,725-dwt Hong Kong-flagged bulker CF Crystal on January 6. Strong winds had pushed it away from the Chinese coast into the Japanese exclusive economic zone (EEZ). 

The Japan Coast Guard said oil had spread over an area 13 kilometres (8.1 miles) long and 11 kilometres (6.8 miles) wide, although it said the slick was shrinking as patrol boats moved to contain it. 

The Coast Guard said the fire on the sea surface was put out, although according to other authorities and Chinese state TV CCTV black smoke continued to billow from the site. 

A clean-up effort has begun and rescue teams have called a halt to the large-scale search for survivors, reducing it to "normal" operations, CCTV said. 

The East China Sea is known for its rich, although already polluted, marine ecosystem that includes whales, porpoises and seabirds, said Rick Steiner, a US marine scientist with experience of oil spills. 

The Sanchi sank on Sunday after a new fire erupted, following the collision with a Chinese bulk carrier a week earlier. The bodies of only three of the 32-man crew of 30 Iranians and two Bangladeshis - had been found thus far.

Takuya Matsumoto, a spokesman for Japan's coastguard said it was not yet clear how much fuel remained in the ship, The Associated Press reported.
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