Hiroshima-based Syoho Shipping Company's tanker Shoko Maru exploded at 9:20 a.m. local time near Himeji Port in central Japan, Japanese coast guard said.
Of the ship's eight crew members, one person is still missing while four people suffered severe burns, the Himeji Fire Department said. The missing person is believed to be the tanker's captain.
Prior to the explosion, the 998-tonne tanker, unloaded the crude and was stationary close to Hyogo prefecture’s coast when the fire engulfed the vessel.
The fate of the captain is still unknown as the Japanese coast guard search operation continues.
The ship was en route to Wakayama Prefecture, a spokesman for the fire department said, adding that the cause of the explosion remains unknown.
According to an official from Syoho Shipping “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” reported the AFP.