Four members of a tanker were seriously burned Thursday morning after their vessel was damaged by an explosion and fire off Himeji, Hyogo Prefecture, the Japan Coast Guard and Himeji Fire Department said.
Among the eight people on board, seven had been rescued and one was missing, the coast guard said. The missing man was identified as the captain, Masaichi Ando, 64.
The 998-ton Shoko Maru had unloaded its cargo of crude oil and was not underway when the explosion occurred.
“The ship unloaded crude oil at a port in Hyogo Prefecture, and the tanker was virtually empty when the accident occurred,” said Akihiro Komura, an official at Syoho Shipping, the Hiroshima-based shipping firm that owns the vessel.
“I heard that a crew member was using a grinder to remove paint and that seems to have triggered the blast, which we believe could have occurred when the remnants of the oil caught fire,” he said.
“It is a Japanese ship and belongs to our company. All the crew members are Japanese nationals. We have confirmed seven out of the eight are alive and one, believed to be the captain, is still missing.”
Speaking in the Diet, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe interrupted a debate to announce: “In waters off Hyogo, a tanker has exploded and is currently in flames.”
Television footage from helicopters showed thick columns of black smoke billowing from the stricken tanker as water jets doused it.
Coast guard officials said they raced to the scene after receiving reports that the Shoko Maru had exploded. They said four of the crew had been flown to a hospital and the other three were being treated on the ship.
Himeji port sits on the Seto Inland Sea. The city is a popular tourist destination and home to one of Japan’s finest feudal castles.