Indian, Lankan navies continue battle with burning tanker off Sri Lanka

This photo released by Sri Lankan Air Force shows smoke rising after a fire broke out on a Panama-registered oil tanker about 38 nautical miles (70 kilometers) east of Sri Lanka, Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020.   | Photo Credit: AP

A large oil tanker off Sri Lanka’s east coast remained on fire for the second day on Friday, as naval vessels from India and Sri Lanka continued efforts to douse the flames. A Filipino crew member was killed in the fire, following an explosion in the MT New Diamond’s engine room, while 23 others have been rescued authorities said, amid fears of a possible oil spill.

According to the Sri Lankan Navy, nine vessels from the two countries, including three tugboats, were engaged in the firefighting operation that had so far prevented the flames from spreading to the cargo onboard. The vessel, said to be chartered by the Indian Oil Corporation and heading from Kuwait to Paradip in Odisha, is carrying 2,70,000 metric tonnes of crude oil.

The MT New Diamond, is some 25 nautical miles off Sri Lanka’s southeast coast, near the popular surfing spot of Arugambay.

“It is currently parallel to the land. There are no naked flames, only white smoke. The Indian and Sri Lankan vessels are trying their best to contain the fire and tow the vessel further away from the coast,” Navy spokesman Captain Indika de Silva told The Hindu on Friday evening.

The Indian Coast Guard (ICG) said in a press release that its ship Shaurya was coordinating the firefighting and rescue operation with the master of the burning vessel. To augment the ongoing efforts to contain the fire and prevent an oil spill, the ICG has deployed additional ships with pollution response equipment.

“Under the inter-governmental, South Asia Co-operative Environment Programme, the ICG has taken the lead in the efforts,” an official told The Hindu. Two Dornier aircraft have also been deployed from India to assist the efforts.

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka’s Natural Hazards Early Warning Centre has issued an ‘Oil Spill Advisory’, based on a hypothetical scenario. The Colombo-based Daily FT newspaper in its Friday editorial flagged the possibility, highlighting the absence of laws in Sri Lanka to demand compensation from errant oil companies, in the event of a large-scale oil spill in the country’s waters.

Earlier on Thursday, two Russian vessels, that were calling at the southern Hambantota Port, joined the rescue operation, but withdrew as their capacity to extinguish external fires proved inadequate.

(With inputs from Dinakar Peri in New Delhi)

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Printable version | Oct 24, 2021 6:13:02 PM |

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