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Ships collide in Malacca Strait


SINGAPORE (Agencies via Xinhua)-One body has been found and two survivors picked up after an oil tanker and a container ship collided and burst into flames in the Malacca Strait, a US Embassy spokeswoman said yesterday.

The two vessels had crews numbering 46.

The US Navy cargo ship Niagara Falls was at the scene conducting search and rescue operations with the help of two helicopters.

And the rescuers said burning oil on the ships was spilling into the sea.

"One body has been found in the water. Both ships are on fire. There is no oil slick reported as yet," she said.

She said the 96,000-ton Liberian-registered Nagasaki Spirit, carrying oil to Brunei from Saudi Arabia, was in collision with the 27,000-ton Panamanian-registered container ship Ocean Blessing at 32 minutes after midnight (16:32 GMT on Saturday).

The tanker's 25-man crew abandoned ship and the two survivors so far reported are aboard a passing tanker, the Mihara Spirit, the spokeswoman said.

"The container ship is described as 'gutted' by those at the scene," she added.

Lloyd's shipping casualty reporting service in London said the container ship had a crew of 21, its Hong Kong owners said.

The US Embassy official said the Niagara Falls' two Sea Knight cargo helicopters were in the air at the site searching for survivors.

The US ship, attached to the Seventh Fleet, was dispatched after a request for help from the Japanese owners of the Nagasaki Spirit, the embassy spokeswoman said.

The Seventh Fleet's logistics unit transferred to Singapore from the Philippines earlier this year.

Jaffar Hassan, assistant shore officer in Malaysia's Maritime Rescue and Coordination Centre (MRCC), said earlier that the tanker captain reported his vessel had also been fired on.

The embassy official said she had no information on that point.

Robberies and violence by hit-and-run pirates on commercial vessels around Singapore, the world's busiest port, have been reported with increasing frequency in recent years.

Lloyd's earlier reported that three oil tanks aboard the Nagasaki Spirit were ablaze and that it was leaking oil into the sea.

The accident occurred at latitude four degrees 27 minutes north and longitude 98 degrees 42.3 minutes east, about 10 nautical miles off Indonesia's Sumatra Island.

In Jakarta, Indonesian authorities were coordinating rescue efforts from the port of Medan on Sumatra's northeast coast.

Three people were killed and six are missing, presumed dead after a Bahamas-registered luxury liner was in collision with a Taiwanese fishing boat there late last month.

In June a US destroyer collided with a Singapore merchant vessel, causing extensive damage but no injuries. In July two supertankers collided, killing one crewman but spilling no oil.

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