Fireboats battling to extinguish a fire on the Panamanian-registered crude oil tanker New Diamond: AFP
COLOMBO: Sri Lanka on Friday thanked India for its support in dousing a major fire on board an oil tanker carrying crude oil from Kuwait that left one of its 23 crew members dead and stressed that it would need international help in the event of a spill. Indian ships were supporting the Lankan Navy for a second day on Friday to douse the fire that began when the tanker’s engine room caught fire off the coast of Sangamankanda in the eastern district of Ampara.
It was carrying 270,000 metric tonnes of crude oil from Kuwait to India.
“We are receiving support from India and thankful to them,” Sri Lanka’s Army chief Lieutenant General Shavendra Silva told reporters.
He said a joint Navy, Air Force and Indian coast guard and naval support operation was underway.
The Sri Lankan Navy on Friday confirmed that a Filipino sailor died in a boiler explosion in the engine room of the Panama registered tanker MT New Diamond that caught fire on Thursday.
The Navy said that 22 of the 23 member crew had been safely rescued off the tanker.
Rear Admiral Nandana Jayaratne, the Director General, Operations, of Sri Lankan Navy, said there was no threat of an oil spill from the tanker due to the fire.
“The Indian Coast Guard had observed a crack right under the superstructure of the ship, but that does not mean the ship is falling apart and there will be an oil spill,” Jayaratne said.
“We will definitely need international support in the event of a spill,” Jayaratne said.
Jayaratne said, “the worst case scenario now would be that intense heat of the fire cannot be controlled, in 5, 6 to 7 days, the hull cracks, ship snaps and starts tilting, you then have to do what is called boom laying to stop the spill, we will need international support to clean up if it ever happened.”
The Navy said that the ship owners based in Liberia have contacted them.
Meanwhile, chairperson of the Marine Environmental Protection Authority (MEPA) Darshani Lahandapura said that if an oil spill takes place, it will be one of the biggest environmental disasters not only in the region but in the world.
She said that criminal action would be proceeded against the owners of the ship for environmental damage if the oil spill happened.
“Already we have lodged a complaint and sought the advice of the Attorney General,” she said.
The distressed vessel is in the waters 23 nautical miles off the eastern coast where the sea depth is measured at 3100 metres.
The operation to douse the fire resumed early this morning under the supervision of the Greek national captain of the tanker.
The Indian Naval Frigate INS Sahyadri joined the operations by 0200 hours on Friday.
The Navy said two more Indian Coast guard vessels are to join the rescue operations.
The Indian Coast Guard on Thursday said that it pressed into action three of its ships and a Dornier aircraft after the Sri Lankan Navy sought assistance to control the fire onboard the oil tanker.
In a swift sea and air coordinated Search and Rescue (SAR) operation, the Coast Guard said it immediately diverted ICG Ships Shaurya, Sarang and Samudra Paheredar, besides a Dornier aircraft for the firefight on the oil tanker.
The Sri Lankan Navy said that the two Russian vessels which were docked at the Hambantota port since August 31 and dispatched to the area to join the rescue operations departed Sri Lankan waters this morning.
On Thursday night, MV Helen, a vessel sailing in the area, rescued 3 Greeks and 16 Filipino crew members from the distressed vessel.
The Navy spokesman said that at least four ships had been dispatched to carry out the rescue operation.
The naval ships were dispatched from the eastern port of Trincomalee and the southern port of Hambantota.
At the time the fire broke out, the Panamanian-registered ship was about 38 nautical miles (70 kilometres) east of Sri Lanka.