A South Korean fuel tanker sank yesterday after an explosion on board, leaving five crew members dead and eight missing, the coastguard said.
The 4,191 tonne ship sank near Jawol Island, about 32km off the western port of Incheon, where the vessel had unloaded its cargo, a coastguard spokesman said.
Yonhap news agency reported that the explosion was likely caused by gases leaking from the ship’s oil tanks, citing an official from the firm that owns the vessel.
“We believe that something went wrong during the process to take out remaining gas in the oil tank,” the Doora Shipping official said.
“The vessel usually transports diesel, but this time it carried gasoline. We are now examining whether it had any relation to the explosion,” Yonhap quoted the official as saying.
The dead crew members included one South Korean and two Burmese citizens.
Five other South Koreans and three Burmese crew were missing, but five others had been rescued, the spokesman said, adding that an emergency operation involving dozens of patrol ships was ongoing.
Authorities were still investigating the cause of the explosion, which happened in the Yellow Sea, but the coastguard said it was unlikely to be the result of any hostile action by North Korea.
“The explosion took place far below the sea border with North Korea. We see very little possibility [of attacks by the North],” the spokesman said.
The flashpoint maritime border with the North on the Yellow Sea was the scene of deadly naval clashes in 1999, 2002 and 2009.
Seoul accused Pyongyang of torpedoing one of its warships, causing the loss of 46 lives in March 2010. The North denied involvement, but then went on to shell a border island that left four South Koreans dead in November 2010.