Oil vessel gutted by fire at sea; one dies, 21 rescued

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At least one person has died after an oil vessel caught fire off Hong Kong on Tuesday, sending a huge cloud of dark smoke billowing into the air.

Twenty-one people have been rescued after those on the vessel either fell or jumped into the sea, according to a police spokesperson, but it is not yet clear if more people are still missing. A number of the victims had suffered burns.

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In a picture posted by the Hong Kong Police, the tanker was seen listing sharply with large plumes of black smoke coming from its middle and flames still burning on the deck.

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Officers said they received a report of an oil tanker exploding and catching fire in waters south of the outlying Lamma Island.

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“I heard several banging and rumbling sounds, like someone with big hands knocking my glass door,” a resident of Lamma Island’s Mo Tat New Village who gave his name as Shu told AFP.

He added that a smaller banging sound followed about 10 seconds later.

Photos on local news site Apple Daily showed an orange blaze on the ship which was also belching out heavy smoke.

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The name on the front of the tanker was Aulac Fortune, which the Hong Kong marine department tracker website showed as arriving at the South Lamma anchorage at 2.58 am Tuesday local time.

The MarineTraffic.com website listed the tanker as registered in Vietnam and leaving the southern Chinese industrial city of Dongguan on Monday.

Authorities have dispatched marine police vessels, fireboats and a helicopter in an ongoing rescue operation, the South China Morning Post reported.

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