Accident details: At a glance

  • Type of accident: Collision
  • Vessel(s) involved: Sanchi (oil tanker), ‘CF Crystal’ (bulk carrier)
  • Date: 06 January 2018
  • Place: off Shanghai
  • Fatalities: 32
  • Pollution: Major


The incident
 

On the afternoon hours of 6 January 2018, the Panama-registered oil tanker Sanchi, owned by the National Iranian Tanker Company, was en route from Assaluyeh, Iran to Daesan, Republic of Korea, loaded with a cargo of condensate oil.

Meanwhile, the Chinese bulk carrier ‘CF Crystal’ was bound from Kalama, US to Dongguan, China, loaded with sorghum in bulk.

While both vessels were underway in East China Sea, they collided off Shanghai.

The collision breached the cargo tanks of Sanchi, resulting in the leakage of condensate oil and subsequent fire and explosions.

After burning for over a week, the ship eventually sank on 14 January 2018.

 

Fatalities

All the 32-crew, including 30 Iranian and 2 Bangladeshi, are considered perished in the disaster, with only three bodies found and 29 crew members remaining unaccounted for. The 23 Chinese crew members on Crystal were rescued.

 

Environmental consequences

After burning for more than a week, the Sanchi sank, causing one of the worst oil spills in over 30 years.

The Sanchi was carrying 111,000 tonnes (810,000 barrels) of condensate - an ultra-light, highly flammable crude oil, most of which evaporated after the fire. An estimated 1,941 tons of HFO was also in Sanchi's fuel storage tanks.

As a result, the accident created four separate slicks covering a total area of 100 square km, which is almost equivalent to the size of Paris, damaging beaches and the local fishing industry.

Oil reached even islands in southern Japan, most likely from the tanker, the Japanese Coast Guard announced in late February.

An article by The New York Times compared the spill magnitude with that of the Exxon Valdez, while it is sure that the spill was larger in size than oil spilled by the Prestige tanker.

Read in this series

Probable causes

The official investigation report by the Maritime Safety Administration (MSA) of China, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Panama and Hong Kong, revealed that both vessels failed to comply with the requirements of Rule 5 of the COLREGs to maintain a proper look-out by sight and hearing, as well as by all available means appropriate in the prevailing circumstances and conditions and failed to make a full appraisal of the situation and of the risk of collision.

Additionally, both vessels failed to comply with the requirements of Rule 7 of the COLREGs to use all available means appropriate to the prevailing circumstances and conditions to determine if the risk of collision exists.

The joint investigation report provided different aspects on the accident:

-China

The Chinese statement mostly seemed to blame Sanchi over the collision, noting that:

“As the give-way vessel in the crossing situation, Sanchi did not take actions to keep well clear of CF Crystal according to Rule 15 and 16 of the COLREGS. This was the main causal factor of the collision.”

-Hong Kong

“Since Sanchi had CF Crystal on its own starboard side and risk of collision existed in a crossing course since 1924 LT, she should have kept out of the way and should have, if the circumstances of the case admitted, avoided crossing ahead of the other vessel. But, SANCHI did not take actions as required. This was the main factor contributing to the collision,”

…the Hong Kong part noted.

Both parties agreed that CF Crystal also failed to act in line with Rule 17 of the COLREGS but saw this as an additional-contributing factor to the accident.

However, the conclusions from the investigation were diverging, with representatives from Iran, Panama and Bangladesh seeing the Crystal's change of direction as mostly to blame.

-Iran – Bangladesh - Panama

“Alteration of CF Crystal's course to starboard starting 15 minutes prior to the collision developed the situation into a collision, which would have otherwise been clear,”

…the official statement by Iran – Bangladesh – Panama reads.

 

Lessons learned

The Sanchi accident was a "very serious marine casualty", as per the Casualty Investigation Code and another disaster added to the list of human element-related incidents.

On the aftermath of the tragedy, all relevant parties took measures to prevent such accidents in the future.

China issued navigation warnings and set an area to be avoided around Sanchi with a radius of 10 nm, to prevent secondary accidents.

Iran requested NITC to conduct additional ISM Audits to ensure preventive actions and reviewed seafarers training policies and procedures in order to improve training standards for Iranian seafarers. Panama Maritime Authority evaluated the ISM procedure of NITC.

The Management Company of Sanchi reviewed the company’s SMS to improve management system for preventive actions, while it also carried out a pre-job training on the crews to be dispatched before their boarding, especially the officers.

As it seems impossible for many shipping experts to conceive how two ships of this size collided in open sea -given the opportunities offered by current technology-, this accident and its tragic consequences can serve as a stark reminder of why safety culture must be nurtured every single day.


Update December 2019:

The families of the victims headed to America and filed a lawsuit against the state-owned shipowner and two Iranian government officials.

In the complaint, the families contest all of the allegations made by the defendants and allege that the crew of the Sanchi were seized after the collision and have been held in detention for nearly two years in an undisclosed location.

The plaintiffs allege that the accused parties deliberately lied to the Iranian people and their families about the deaths of the crew, and have pressured the families to accept their version of events following the collision to put an end to questions about the incident.

The complaint alleges that the defendants have denied the families access to information about the incident and their relatives.


 Did you know?

  • The wreck of Sanchi has been located at a depth of 115 metres.
  • Although equipped with respirators, the salvage team that searched for survivors were forced off the vessel less than half an hour after boarding because of the toxic atmosphere.
  • A report by Nature stated that perhaps the more important aspect of this spill is the immediate toxic effect on the marine inhabitants -given the volatile nature of condensate- with less concern about deposition of condensate on sediments or polluting beaches.

Click here to read the official investigation report: