Japanese Oil Tanker Explosion: Captain Missing, 4 Crew Injured

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An oil tanker exploded off the coast of Japan on Thursday, leaving the captain missing and four crew severely injured.

Emergency crews were still attempting to extinguish the fire at 3 p.m. local time (2 a.m. ET), four hours after the blast and ensuing fire gutted a large hole in the 1,000-ton ship Shoko Maru causing it to tilt on its side.

The Japanese coast guard told the country's national broadcaster NHK that Captain Masaichi Ando had not been found. Four of his crew suffered severe burns, two of whom were unconscious.

The Shoko Maru caught fire just three miles off Himeji, in western Japan's in Hyogo Prefecture. It had unloaded its fuel oil last Friday, government spokesman Yoshihide Suga told Reuters, and the coast guard said the cause of the explosion was not known.

NHK reported that the men had been using a grinder to remove rust near its fuel tank before the vessel exploded.

Reuters contributed to this report.

- Alexander Smith