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In this Sunday, Jan. 14, 2018, photo provided by China's Ministry of Transport, a rescue ship sails near the burning Iranian oil tanker Sanchi in the East China Sea off the eastern coast of China.

The cause of the January 6 collision between the Sanchi and the Chinese freighter CF Crystal, which happened 257 kilometers (160 miles) east of Shanghai, remains unclear.

Strong winds had pushed it away from the Chinese coast, where the incident happened, and into Japan's exclusive economic zone.

In August 2016, one of its tankers collided with a Swiss container ship in the Singapore Strait, damaging both ships but causing no injuries or oil spill.

"The Chinese government has paid close attention to the incident, after which China promptly mobilised vessels, equipment and personnel for the rescue, " Wang said, adding that the rescue is still ongoing.

A clean-up effort has begun and rescue teams have called a halt to the large-scale search for survivors, reducing it to "normal" operations, CCTV said.

Three bodies have been recovered after Chinese rescue teams tried very hard to put out the fire and rescue the crew members on the tanker, carrying 136,000 tons of gas condensates and other oils, that caught fire after the collision.

China's State Oceanic Administration said on Sunday that because the explosions had ruptured the hull of the ship, a large amount of oil in surrounding water was on fire.

The condensate that leaked into the water could potentially wreak havoc on local fish spawning grounds and the Sanchi sank in the migratory path of the humpback whale, according to Greenpeace.

The deaths of the Iranian sailors were announced days after the Panama-registered tanker and the Hong Kong-registered bulk freighter CF Crystal collided in waters about 300 km east of the Yangtze River estuary on January 6.

Japanese authorities lost track of the tanker as of 8.40am GMT on Sunday.

The Shanghai Maritime Bureau said these, along with a South Korean patrol boat, were among the vessels carrying out emergency response work on Monday.

The salvage team recovered Sanchi's "black box", Xinhua also said on Saturday.

The size of the from the ship and the extent of the environmental harm were not known, but the disaster has the potential to be the worst since 1991 when 260,000 tonnes of oil leaked off the Angolan coast. Condensate is poisonous to marine organisms.

“As with all major oil spills, time is of the essence.

"I don't know of any condensate spill into a marine environment larger than 1,000 tonnes, and most that we know of have been less than one tonne", he said. It had been adrift and ablaze after crashing into the freighter CF Crystal on Jan 6.