Tanker Catches Fire in Chinese Waters

HONG KONG (AP) -- High winds and rough seas hampered attempts Monday to put out a fire aboard a tanker carrying 20,000 tons of liquefied petroleum gas, but officials said there was only a slight risk of explosion.

The fire broke out late Saturday in the engine room of the Panamanian-registered Gaz Poem, away from the ship's highly volatile cargo, said a spokesman for the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen who gave only his surname, Zhu. The tanker is in Chinese waters.

No one was injured and nearby vessels picked up the 34 crew members from lifeboats, said a Hong Kong government spokeswoman who identified herself only as Tang. She said the cause of the fire was not known.

Strong winds and high waves prevented firefighting vessels from even approaching the Gaz Poem on Monday as the fire blazed for a second day, Chen said.

Hong Kong's government-owned radio station, RTHK, cited Chinese officials as saying that intense heat also hindered efforts to put out the fire. Ships were warned to stay at least 10 miles away because of the slight risk of explosion, though shipping between Hong Kong and southern China was not disrupted.

Winds were helping keep flames from the fuel area, but Hong Kong Marine Department spokesman Thomas Cheng said the risk of explosion could increase if the wind changed direction.

The ship was moored about 30 miles south of Daya Bay, southern China, where a nuclear power plant is located. There were no reports of people being evacuated from that area.

The tanker left Hong Kong on Wednesday for Yantian, a mainland Chinese port to the east of the territory.

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