Through fire and water… | Daily News


Through fire and water…

The fire onboard the ill-fated oil tanker MT New Diamond was still raging as of last afternoon and out of the 23 crew members onboard, 22 were rescued while one Filipino crew member is presumed dead, Navy Spokesman Captain Indika de Silva told the Daily News.

The Sri Lanka Navy, Sri Lanka Air Force, Sri Lanka Ports Authority, the Indian Navy and the Indian Coast Guard are engaged in a joint operation to control the fire that erupted after an explosion of a boiler in the main engine room of the MT New Diamond, sailing 38 nautical miles off Sangamankanda Point, east of Sri Lanka last Thursday.

The Navy Spokesman said currently there are eight vessels engaged in the operation to arrest the fire onboard the oil tanker carrying around 270,000 Metric Tonnes of crude oil. Among them are three vessels of the Sri Lanka Navy - Sayura, Sindurala and Ranarisi with two Fast Attack Craft, two vessels belonging to the Indian Coast Guard including Indian Coast Guard Ship Shaurya and (INS) Sahyadri. In addition, two tugs Rawana and Wasamba also joined the efforts to curb the fire from the Hambantota Port last morning (4). “The mission was also joined by the ALP Winger, another tug which was sent by the foreign company that owns the ship in trouble,” the Navy Spokesman said.

However, the two Russian warships that had rushed to assist from the Hambantota Harbour had left the operation as it was beyond their capabilities to be of any assistance.

The Navy Spokesman said, however, the tug boats are the best bet at this point to handle the operation. He said water is being pumped for cooling while special fire retardant chemicals mixed with water are being sprayed onto the area of the fire to control it. He said the main aim is to prevent the fire from reaching the inflammable cargo and avert an explosion.

Captain Silva also noted that so far there is no danger of any oil leakage as the oil storage compartment is well sealed and there is a large ballast tank between the engine room and the cargo section which could be filled with water or sand. Two tugs are also holding the flaming ship from drifting towards the Sri Lankan coast.

Accordingly, an MI17 helicopter of the Sri Lanka Air Force carried out several aerial operations, dropping water on the ship which had caught fire. Meanwhile, a Beechcraft is conducting periodic air surveillance and a Dornier aircraft of the Indian Coast Guard also monitored the disaster situation from the air.

There were five Greek and 18 Philippine nationals among the crew. One of them was injured and he was airlifted out of the ship and the rest were accounted for.

The ship had sailed from the Port of Mina Al Ahmadi in Kuwait, loaded with Kuwait Export Crude, Refinitiv Eikon tracking data showed. It was heading to the Indian Port of Paradip, where the state-run IOC has a 300,000 barrel-per-day refinery. It was scheduled to reach India on September 5.

Meanwhile, 21 crew members of the distressed oil tanker including the 19 persons, who were initially retrieved by the MV Helen M were taken aboard Sri Lanka Navy ships and have been safely isolated adhering to health guidelines.

The third engineering officer of the ship, who sustained injuries, is in stable condition at the Kalmunai Hospital.

Addressing a media briefing at the Government Information Department yesterday, Army Commander Lt. Gen. Shavendra Silva said although the ill-fated ship is currently 38 nautical miles off the coast of Sri Lanka, it had drifted towards the coast and was at around 27 nautical miles off Sri Lanka’s coast.

However, he said all possible efforts have been taken to douse the fire onboard but, in the event there is a leakage all measures are being taken to prevent any catastrophic effect.

Meanwhile, Navy Director General Operations Rear Admiral Y.N. Jayaratne said the ill-fated ship is currently around 22 nautical miles off Sri Lanka’s coast, adding that the main priority right now is to douse the fire. “However, the smoke may last for some time. The ship’s owners are in contact with the Navy and once the fire is doused they will take steps to take the ship away.”

However, he said as the ship is in deep waters and based on the currents, there is no danger of an oil spill at present. But, the Sri Lankan Navy is on alert. By last evening, the Navy expected more ships to join the efforts. He said three tugs capable of handling large ships are currently deployed and more were expected by last evening.

Rear Admiral Jayaratne commenting on the condition of the injured sailor said he had sustained serious burn injuries but was still stable. The Captain of the ill-fated ship and some other crew members are onboard another vessel at sea to assist in the efforts to douse the fire.

He said with regard to the missing crew member, they have not been able to get him out and they suspect that he could have died in the explosion. He said although the ship is 20 years old, it is a strong ship with a double hull.

He said all possible assistance has been received from other countries in the region in the effort to douse the fire.

Joining the media briefing, Dharshani Lahandapura, the Chairman of the Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA) said as long as the fire can be doused there is no issue, but they were concerned about the possibility of an oil spill. Hence, together with the Disaster Management Center (DMC), preparations are being made to face a worst-case scenario and in such an event, international assistance would be sought. She also noted that in the case of an oil spill, Sri Lanka would claim compensation from the ship owners.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa have been monitoring the situation and have been in discussion with the MEPA regarding the situation.

Currently, around 15 institutions, including the MEPA which is under the purview of the Urban Development Authority, Coast Guard Department, Sri Lanka Navy, Air Force, Port Authority, Environmental Authority, Fisheries Department, Disaster Management Department, Meteorology Department, Wildlife Department and Petroleum Corporation are jointly engaged in coordinating efforts to handle this situation.

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