A Gabon-registered tanker caught fire in the South China Sea off the Johor coast while it was heading towards Singapore from China on Monday.
The vessel, MT Pablo, had a total of 28 crew members on board. Fortunately, 25 of them were rescued by several ships in the vicinity of the incident, while three are still missing.
Missing crew had been identified as Indian nationals Satyam Tripathi, 26, and Dinesh Kumar Chauhan, 34, while the third was Ukrainian Sabit Shenderovskyi, 37. The Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) received an alert of a tanker on fire at 4 pm local time on Monday.
The cause of the incident is still under investigation. The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) issued a statement on Monday, stating that the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre received information from the master of tanker MS Enola that the vessel had rescued 18 crew members from MT Pablo.
The statement added that seven others were picked up by vessels in the vicinity. Malaysian rescuers are currently searching for the missing crew members.
Thick, black smoke engulfed the Gabon-flagged ship when the fire broke out on Monday during its journey from China to Singapore.
Singaporean authorities identified the ship as the MT Pablo.
The fire was extinguished and the vessel was afloat with no danger to passing ships, a Malaysian official told AFP. According to MMEA acting director-general Vice Admiral Datuk Saiful Lizan Ibrahim, the missing crew members are believed to be still alive.
He said that there is a possibility that they may have survived if they were able to escape from the fire located in the middle of the ship.
However, the amount of oxygen supply depends on the size of the room, if the size is small they may last a day, or if the room is large they may last a few days,” he said during a press conference at the Johor State Maritime Headquarters on Tuesday. The search and rescue operation involved various sea and air assets from several agencies including the Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN), Johor Marine Department, and Johor Port.
Saiful Lizan said that in addition, they will also seek the services of the Malaysian Fire and Rescue Department’s Hazmat team to enter the ship which is still filled with smoke, in an effort to conduct a search on board, given that there is a possibility that the three may still be trapped inside.
Maritime authorities in neighboring Singapore have also broadcasted alerts to vessels in the vicinity to look out for the three missing crew members.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation, but there have been no reports of an oil spill as the tanker was not carrying any cargo.
It is currently unclear if there has been any widespread environmental impact. Videos showed the tanker on fire, with large plumes of black smoke rising into the air, while other ships were spotted nearby.