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The Japanese tanker Shoko Maru burning off Himeji port in Hyogo prefecture, western Japan. Image released by the Japanese coast guard.

A Japanese oil tanker exploded off the country’s south-west coast near Himeji port Thursday, leaving one missing from the eight-person crew and four badly injured.

Fire raged through the midsection of the Shoko Maru, a 998-tonne tanker based in the western city of Hiroshima.

Seven of the crew were rescued, the coast guard said.

The missing man is the captain, who’s name hasn’t been released.

The tanker is owned by Syoho Shipping of Hiroshima.

Akihiro Komura, a spokesperson for Syoho, said: “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.”

The four injured crew members suffered severe burns, Japan’s NHK reported.

Coast guard spokesman Koji Takarada said the tanker had unloaded crude oil at a port in Hyogo prefecture about 280 miles west of Tokyo.

It was empty when the accident happened.

NHK reported that crew members were working on the deck of the tanker when the vessel exploded.

One crewman was using a sanding machine to remove paint and that could have caused the blast, the coast guard said.

At around 9.30 am Thursday in Japan, prime minister Shinzo Abe interrupted a debate in parliament with a statement.

“In waters off Hyogo [prefecture] a tanker has exploded and is currently in flames,” he told lawmakers.