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Oil tanker explodes, sinks off Japan coast

TOKYO--An oil tanker sank off the Japanese coast on Thursday after a large explosion and subsequent fire sent towering columns of acrid smoke into the sky.

The 64-year-old captain of the ship was still unaccounted for nearly 12 hours after the accident, while four of his crew were in hospital being treated for severe burns, the local coastguard said.

The vessel's boatswain, 61, remained unconscious with burns covering his entire body, it added.

The nearly 1,000-tonne tanker had unloaded its cargo of crude oil last week and was stationary off the coast of Hyogo prefecture, around 450 kilometres (280 miles) west of Tokyo, when the explosion happened at about 9:20 am (0020 GMT).

Throughout the day the vessel listed ever more extremely, and sank beneath the waves in the early evening, the coastguard said.

Akihiro Komura, an official from Syoho Shipping, the Hiroshima-based shipping firm that owns the vessel, confirmed that seven of the eight Japanese crew were rescued, including those injured.

“The ship unloaded crude oil at a port in Hyogo prefecture, and the tanker was virtually empty when the accident occurred,” he told AFP by telephone.

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