At least one person is dead and two missing after an oil tanker caught fire south of one of Hong Kong’s main islands.
The fire broke out aboard a vessel transporting kerosene near Lamma Island around 11:30 a.m. local time, a police spokeswoman told CNN.
Crew on board jumped into the water as the fire engulfed the ship, 23 of the 26 or so believed to be on board had now been rescued by marine police boats, the spokeswoman said. One dead body was also pulled out of the water.
A government spokesman said there were three fire boats deployed to tackle the blaze. As of Tuesday afternoon, the fire appeared to be largely extinguished, but the ship was listing severely.
Significant damage, including a large hole framed by metal twisted outward from the deck, could be seen on one side of the ship, appearing to confirm reports of an explosion prior to the fire.
Liquid could be seen pouring from the damaged area, but it was unclear whether this was fuel or simply water running off from the firefighting. There was no sign of significant oil build up on the water near the vessel.
Hong Kong’s Environmental Protection Department told CNN in an email that the city immediately deployed cleaning vessels to the site on standby, but that no oil spillage had been observed so far.
Two crew members had been rushed to hospitals in central Hong Kong, the government spokesman said, one with a leg injury, the other with burns.
The 11,000-ton, Vietnamese-flagged Aulac Fortune was en route to Hong Kong from the southern Chinese port of Dongguan, according to ship tracker Marine Traffic.
Residents of Lamma and nearby Lantau Island reported hearing a loud bang and hearing their windows and other furniture shake.
“My windows shook really badly but (there) was no wind,” Lamma resident Deb Lindsay said. “I thought there had been an earthquake!”
Lindsay said there were three bangs, an initial “really big one” followed by two smaller apparent explosions minutes later.
Tracy Lockwood, a Lamma resident, said she was teaching across the Lamma Channel in Aberdeen, on the southern part of Hong Kong island, and felt a “big wallop on the windows.”
“I thought it was just a weird big gust of wind but it must have been (the) explosion,” she added.
Parts of southern Lamma are a protected nesting site for green turtles, a highly endangered species. Hong Kong has also struggled in the past to deal with pollution and debris flowing onto Lamma’s beaches from the sea, and many residents expressed concern the tanker fire would see the island’s coast flooded with oil.
According to the International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation Limited (ITOPF), non-persistent oils, such as kerosene, “will dissipate rapidly through evaporation.” Despite this, the ITOPF notes that impacts from non-persistent oils may still include, at high concentrations, “acute toxicity to marine organisms.”
As well as the endangered green turtles, Hong Kong’s waters also host a critically endangered colony of white dolphins, already under pressure from pollution and land reclamation activity.