Tugs fought late into the night to prevent a blazing oil tanker carrying 270,000 tons of crude oil from drifting towards the Sri Lankan coast.
According to the Indian Coast Guard, the fire on the Panama-registered New Diamond had been brought under control. But after an explosion in the engine room that triggered the emergency, smoke was still pouring from the 330-meter-long ship.
The New Diamond was driving from Kuwait in the direction of the east Indian port of Paradip when it gave a distress signal 60 kilometers off the east coast of Sri Lanka.
#ICG & Sri Lankan ships and aircraft successfully towed together with tug ALP Winger after consolidated efforts #MTNewDiamond more than 35 NM away from #Sri Lanka Coast to Safe Waters. #Fight fire goes on and the fire is now reduced. No oil spill was reported. pic.twitter.com/bvbnd1fLtw
– Indian Coast Guard (@IndiaCoastGuard) 5th September 2020
After a Filipino crew member was killed in the explosion and the other 22 lifted off, the tanker drifted 25 km closer to the coast on Friday.
Three tugs – two Indian and one chartered by the owners – were put into action to push the ship back into deeper waters at sea.
The Indian Coast Guard (ICG) announced late Friday that the fire had been “brought under control” by “massive firefighting” of their ships with the Indian Navy as well as ships and aircraft of the Sri Lankan military.
Water and foam cannons were used to smother the flames, said Sudantha Ranasinghe, director of the Sri Lankan Civil Protection Center.
“The flames on the bridge and outside the engine have been extinguished,” Ranasinghe told AFP ahead of the Indian Coast Guard’s announcement. But he said there were still fires burning in the ship.
Ranasinghe said the fire did not spread to the massive crude oil cargo and 1,700 tons of diesel fuel.
The Sri Lankan Navy said there was no imminent risk of the tanker collapsing, despite reports of a two-meter crack in the hull above the waterline.
Rear Admiral Y. N. Jayarathna said the metal cracked in the intense heat when the ship’s diesel fuel tanks burned as the fire spread from the adjacent engine room.
The emergency came just a week after a huge oil spill hit the coast of Mauritius.
“It will take another four to five days for the fire to be completely extinguished,” said Jayarathna. “After that we should be able to tow it and let the owners decide what to do.”
Sri Lankan Marine Environment Agency chief Dharshani Lahandapura said legal action could be taken against the owner, Liberia-registered Porto Emporios Shipping Inc., “should the worst happen and the ship crumble”.
Lahandapura told reporters that Sri Lanka did not have the resources to contain a major oil spill.
However, according to Ranasinghe, authorities are considering handing the crude oil from ship to ship before rescuing the tanker.
The Maldives fear a catastrophe
The ship is larger than the Japanese bulk carrier MV Wakashio, which crashed into a reef in Mauritius in July and leaked more than 1,000 tons of oil into the island nation’s pristine waters.
Sri Lanka’s neighbor Maldives has raised concerns that oil spills from the New Diamond in the atoll of 1,192 coral islands, which depend on fishing and tourism, could cause serious environmental damage.
The Maldivian minister in the president’s office, Ahmed Naseem, called for precautionary measures across the archipelago, some 1,000 kilometers southwest of Sri Lanka.
“The Maldives must carefully monitor this oil spill and take every precaution to prevent it from reaching its banks,” Naseem said on Twitter. “This could be a major disaster.”
(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by GossipMantri staff and published from a syndicated feed.)