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Sunk tanker's families sue Iran in US court.

The families of 10 of the crewmembers of the Iranian tanker Sanchi, which sank in the Pacific Ocean almost two years ago, have sued the Iranian firm that owned the tanker, alleging that the crewmembers survived and are being held secretly in detention.

The Sanchi was owned by the National Iranian Tanker Co. (NITC). It collided with a Chinese freighter January 6, 2018, some 160 nautical miles (300 kilometers) off Shanghai, burned furiously for eight days and then sank.

China and South Korea fought the fire and a Chinese rescue effort briefly put a team onboard, but it was soon forced to depart when the wind shifted and the team was engulfed by toxic smoke.

The suit was not filed in Iran, but in the US District Court for the District of Columbia in Washington, DC.

The DC law firm of Herischi & Associates announced the filing of the lawsuit naming as defendants NITC, then Labor Minister Ali Rabii and then-chairman of the Majlis National Security Committee Alaeddin Borujerdi. In the suit, the family members claim that the official report, stating that all crew members were dead within minutes of the accident, is completely baseless and no evidence of the deaths of all crewmen has been produced to date. Chinese ships found the bodies of three of the crewmen--30 Iranians and two Bangladeshis.

The 10 families contest all of the allegations made by the defendants and allege that "the crew of the Sanchi were seized after the collision and have been held in detention for nearly two years in an undisclosed location." It doesn't say who detains them. The rescue efforts were launched mainly by Chinese firefighters with help from South Korean ships. It isn't known that any Iranians were on the scene until after the sinking.

The families also allege that the accused parties deliberately lied to the Iranian people and the families about the deaths of the crewmen, and have pressured the families to accept their version of events to put an end to questions about the incident.

According to Herischi & Associates, the families allege several grounds for believing the crewmen survived the wreck, mainly citing multiple phone calls made from crewmembers' cellphones to their relatives in the months following the ship's destruction.

--Early in 2019, the Persian dailies Sharq, Hamshahri and Jam-e Jam all carried stories about relatives of the crewmen protesting outside the Chinese Embassy, the Foreign Ministry and the President's office. The relatives quoted all said they did not trust the government or

believe any of its statements. But they did not say why they thought the government was holding the crewmen in detention.

They reported receiving many telephone calls from the cellphones of the crewmen, but no one spoke on the other end of the line. The sister of one crewman said she called back to the number and "an Arabic-speaking guy answered the phone."

Some in the government have labeled the calls hoaxes.

China, Iran and Panama--where the Sanchi was registered--conducted a joint investigation into the accident. The three parties reached consensus on the basic facts around the accident, including the properties of Sanchi's cargo, identification of the crew, time of the collision and the process of the accident.

However, differences remain between China and Iran concerning the direct cause of the accident, namely whether the Iranian or the Chinese ship was responsible. Details of the SanchVs demise have remained threadbare with Chinese and Iranian authorities reluctant to share much more information and no formal investigative report yet issued.

The tanker was carrying condensate from the South Pars gasfield to a South Korean petrochemical firm.

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Publication:Iran Times International (Washington, DC)
Geographic Code:9CHIN
Date:Dec 20, 2019
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