After Tanker's Sinking, Debate Over Response Begins


By The Maritime Executive 01-16-2018 02:53:21

In the wake of the burning and sinking of the Iranian tanker Sanchi last week, tensions have arisen over the responsibility for the disaster and the adequacy of the response that followed. 

The most provocative of the allegations relates to the cause of the accident. On Tuesday, Saudi-owned outlet Al Arabiya alleged that some Iranian lawmakers believe that American forces sank the tanker, and that Sanchi did not collide with the bulker CF Crystal as reported. Under this theory, the Sanchi was carrying a cargo of condensate to North Korea, not to South Korea, and American military assets sank her to prevent the delivery. No other major media entity or government body has made this claim. 

The Iranian government immediately denied Al Arabiya's account and repudiated the theory that Sanchi was attacked. “The South Korean government has officially announced that the cargo of the sunken Sanchi belonged to them, and the Iranian mission inspected and photographed the ship," said Ali Rabiee, Iran's labor minister and spokesperson for the tanker incident. “If an American missile had hit the vessel, why didn't any radar detect it?” he asked. 

South Korea's ambassador to Tehran, Kim Seung Ho, confirmed again on Monday that the Sanchi's cargo of South Pars condensate was bound for South Korea. Commodities traders have identified the purchaser as Seoul-based petchem firm Hanwha Total, and have reported the company's efforts to find replacement cargoes for the lost shipment aboard the Sanchi.

Dispute over China's response

While Iran's foreign ministry has credited China for its cooperation and its SAR response to the Sanchi disaster, some Iranian officials contend that Chinese agencies did less than they could to fight the fire because they believed the tanker's 32 crewmembers had already perished. Without a perceived chance of rescuing the crew, they imply, Chinese officials wanted the vessel's cargo to continue to burn off rather than spill. 

"China could have sent more vessels to battle the fire . . . If operations were underway day and night, the fate of the crew could have been ascertained," said Mohsen Bahrami, a spokesperson of the National Iranian Tanker Company, speaking to media last week. 

However, Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabiei said that China had done all that it could, and the Chinese Foreign Ministry defended its efforts. "In the case of such a complicated accident, it is not right to accuse China of holding back in its rescue efforts without going through necessary investigation," said spokesman Lu Kang in a regular briefing on Tuesday. "What is obvious at the moment is that China has offered the Iranian side all the necessary coordination to the best of its capability." He noted that China had contributed nine response vessels to the firefighting effot, and that 13 ships from all contributing nations were on scene from the second day onwards.