Fireball in Pacific turns into lawsuit: Vietnamese suggest Iran put a fireball into the water to target China

Vietnam’s foreign ministry said Thursday that an Iranian oil tanker that was caught in fire after colliding with a Chinese freighter has been seized by Iran’s government, in the country’s first explanation of the incident.

The tanker Sanchi was carrying 136,000 metric tons of condensate, a very light oil, when it collided Jan. 6 with the freighter CF Crystal in the East China Sea. The collision left the tanker ablaze.

Iran said Wednesday that the tanker had crashed into a “freighter of the enemy,” without elaborating, but authorities in Vietnam were quick to suspect Iran of sending the tanker ablaze into the water, citing the circumstances of the incident. In response, China let Vietnam inspect the crippled vessel to determine its origin.

Vietnamese officials have since believed the tanker was brought by Iran to waters near Vietnam to consume fuel for fighting the fire and generate revenue for the country’s Central Bank.

A news release on the Vietnamese foreign ministry’s website said that when officials arrived at the site, “rescuers had been conducting rescue operations for the last two days” and “the news that the Sanchi has been taken to the country’s waters and captured was officially announced by the Iranian Foreign Ministry.”

The release continued: “Vietnam would like to express sincere gratitude to the Iranian foreign ministry for informing us of this information.”

On Monday, Iran’s deputy minister of transport for logistics and shipping Amir Abdollahzadeh said Iran sent the tanker ablaze into the water with a plan to burn and collect the fuel.

It took weeks to contain the massive crude spill from the damaged tanker, which was transferred from a Chinese ship into Vietnamese waters after being towed to Shanghai last week.

The collision near Shanghai and the mouth of the Yangtze River Delta caused an oil slick more than 5 miles long and 500 yards wide. It also spread to a fishing area off the coast of Zhejiang province.

The Sanchi, owned by National Iranian Tanker Co., and the Crystal, owned by Hong Kong-listed Orient Overseas Container Line, collided about 160 nautical miles off the coast of Shanghai.

The Sanchi was carrying 136,000 metric tons of condensate, which is extremely light crude oil. Authorities initially said the oil slick was 1.2 miles long and 420 yards wide, and that as much as 860,000 gallons (3.2 million liters) of oil had leaked.

The ship was sailing from South Korea to Japan.

NITC is Iran’s flag carrier and is among the biggest in the world. The company’s name means “the Conqueror.” It has contracts with oil majors such as Royal Dutch Shell and Statoil to transport crude from Iran’s oil fields.

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