Rescue ships work to extinguish the fire on the Panama-registered Sanchi tanker carrying Iranian oil, which went ablaze after a collision with a Chinese freight ship in the East China Sea. China Daily via Reuters

Fisheries officials and environmentalists are concerned that an Iranian tanker that sank over the weekend in the East China Sea after burning for more than a week might trigger one of history’s worst-ever oil spills at sea.

The resulting damage in the marine resources rich area could be immense, USNI News reports.

The Iranian-owned tanker Sanchi collided on January 6 with a Hong Kong-flagged cargo ship CF Crystal while sailing to South Korea with a cargo of nearly 1 million barrels of a highly combustible fuel substance called condensate.

Large oil slicks have reportedly been detected in the area where the tanker sank. 32 crewmen are feared dead.

Experts cited in a National Geographic report say it’s hard to tell how much of the fuel condensate will ultimately end up in local waters because condensate burns off fast versus other heavy fuels. But it’s possible that some of Sanchi’s tanks were still full when the ship sank.

Despite the disaster, the next oil shipment between Iran and South Korea is reportedly getting ready to sail.

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