One person is missing and four people have been seriously hurt after an oil tanker exploded off the coast of Japan. The blast and subsequent fire aboard the 998-tonne vessel Shoko-Maru sent towers of billowing acrid smoke into the sky near Himeji port, around 280 miles west of Tokyo.
Coastguard ships battled the blaze on the Hiroshima-based tanker, which has extensive damage to its central section and was listing heavily. Of the eight people aboard the 260ft vessel, seven have been rescued, four of whom suffered severe burns. The missing crew member is believed to be the captain.
The cause of the explosion is unclear, a spokesman for the coastguard said. The tanker had unloaded its cargo of crude oil and was “virtually empty” when the blast happened, according to an official from Syoho Shipping, the company that owns the vessel. Akihiro Komura said: “I heard a crew member was using a grinder to remove paint and that seems to have triggered the blast, which we believe could have occurred when the remnants of the oil caught fire.
“All the crew members are Japanese nationals. We have confirmed seven out of the eight are alive and one, believed to be the captain, is still missing.” News of the accident caused Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to interrupt a debate in parliament. “In waters off Hyogo (prefecture), a tanker has exploded and is currently in flames,” he said.