At least one man has died after an oil tanker caught fire off Hong Kong on Tuesday, authorities said, sending a huge cloud of dark smoke billowing into the air.
Twenty-three people have been rescued after those on the vessel either fell or jumped into the sea, according to a police spokesperson, while two people are missing. A number of the victims suffered burns, and the government said two injured men were taken to hospital.
In a picture posted by the Hong Kong Police, the tanker was seen listing sharply with large plumes of black smoke coming from its middle and flames still burning on the deck.
“I felt my boat shaking. The tremble came from the sea,” said speedboat driver Michael Kwok, who told AFP he heard three explosions while out on his boat nearby.
Hours after initial reports of the oil tanker catching fire in waters south of outlying Lamma Island, emergency services were still battling to contain the scene.
A Hong Kong government statement said firefighters were using four jets to contain the blaze, and a fireboat was seen spraying two streams of water into the sea near the tilted side of the tanker on the right, according to an AFP reporter at the scene, with a mass of twisted metal on the deck and a charred exterior wall bearing a ‘No Smoking’ sign.
Three more fireboats, a helicopter and a police boat were also circling the scene.
“I heard several banging and rumbling sounds, like someone with big hands knocking my glass door,” a resident of Lamma Island’s Mo Tat New Village who gave his name as Shu told AFP.
He added that a smaller banging sound followed about 10 seconds later.
A fisherman from Lamma Island told local news channel i-Cable he first heard explosions and then saw “dense smoke” followed by a “ball of fire”.
The name on the front of the tanker was Aulac Fortune, which the Hong Kong marine department tracker website showed as arriving at the South Lamma anchorage at 2.58 am Tuesday local time.
The MarineTraffic.com website listed the tanker as registered in Vietnam and leaving the southern Chinese industrial city of Dongguan on Monday.
It is believed the tanker was also carrying chemicals as well as oil, with ship-tracking websites MarineTraffic and VesselFinder both classifying the ship as an “oil/chemical tanker”.
Police said there were 26 crew members onboard altogether, while i-Cable reported that most of the surviving crew members — all Vietnamese — sustained light injuries, showing footage of some wrapped in silver heated blankets and walking up to ambulances without much assistance.