An Iranian oil tanker carrying ultra light crude to South Korea collided with a Chinese cargo vessel and is currently burning in the East China Sea waters. All the crew members of the tanker, 30 Iranians and two Bangladeshis, are missing while all those who were abroad the Chinese vessel have been rescued.

Search operations are on for the missing ones. Images on Chinese state television show billowing plumes of thick dark smoke. The collision between the Panama-registered Iranian tanker Sanchi and Hong Kong-flagged bulk freighter CF Crystal took place at about 8pm local time on Saturday, 6 January. The collision site in the East China Sea is about 160 nautical miles east of the Yangtze river delta, according to Chinese authorities.

The Chinese vessel, carrying grain from the US, suffered minor damage "without jeopardising the safety of the ship".

"Sanchi is floating and burning as of now. There is an oil slick and we are pushing forward with rescue efforts," said China's ministry of transportation in a statement. Sanchi was carrying 136,000 tonnes of condensate, base oil, worth $60m.

While Chinese naval forces have deployed eight vessels as part of the rescue efforts, South Korea has pressed into service a ship and helicopter. According to Reuters, Sanchi was built in 2008 and is operated by the state-backed National Iranian Tanker Co (NITC) and was scheduled to arrive in South Korea on Sunday, 7 January.

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A Chinese surveillance ship Haijian No. 66 cruises in waters off Kuba island, part of the disputed islands in the East China Sea Reuters file photo