ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s Navy is saying there is no danger of an oil spill in Sri Lankan waters from the stricken Supertanker MT New Diamond which caught fire in the seas off the island yesterday.
The Director-general of Operations of the Sri Lanka Navy Rear-Admiral Y N Jayarathna told reporters today that it is the Navy’s view that there is no danger of a spill as the fire onboard the vessel has been contained in the aft (rear) section of the vessel.
“The live flames have now died down and there is only white smoke emanating from the vessel,” he told a press conference a short while ago.
“We can assure that there is no danger of oil leakage in Sri Lankan water at the moment,” he said.
“It is a possibility but the chances are slim. One is because it is in the deep sea. And it is 22 nautical miles (35km) from the country and also according to the sea current in that area it is going parallel to the coast toward the south,” he added.
“We expect to control the fire and return this ship safely to their owners,” he added.
There were 23 crew members on board. Nineteen of them are now with the SL Navy. One member had serious burns therefore we send him to the Kalmunai hospital. He is recovering now.
The captain and another crew member is with the Indian Coastal guard ship.
The Sri Lanka Navy spokesman Captain Indika de Silva said that the Navy has been the first responders and they are confident that the fire has not spread to the tanks carrying some 2.7 million tons of crude oil.
Tugs have been towing the New Diamond away from the island nation since the early hours of this morning.
After the ship was abandoned by the crew yesterday because of the fire it has been adrift and had come within 25 kilometers of the island’s east coast last night raising alarm bells.
Around 2am local time tugs from Sri Lanka’s Hambantota Port as well as a heavy tug from a salvage company hired by the owners of the vessel reached it and began towing it east of the island into the deep sea.
At present the vessel is being held by the salvage team in the deep sea 35 km east of Potuvil, de Silva said.
Earlier officials from the country’s Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA) said that if there is a spill, there would be massive damage to fragile marine life and the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people would be affected.
Dolphins and a particular species of Blue Whales who live around the island all year around would be affected Dr Terney Pradeep Kumara, General Manager, MEPA told reporters.
Popular tourist resorts from Arugambay to Nilaveli, Trincomalee and Wakarai would be hit, he said.
Arugambay is one of the world’s most popular surfing destinations where global championships in the sport have been held.
Even after a clean up “it will take 25-30 years for that environment to get back to normal and those chemicals and toxins to be removed from that soil and sea,” Kumara warned.
One Filipino sailor who was missing yesterday is presumed dead, Captain de Silva said.
“Crew members told us that he was badly injured in a boiler explosion and it is doubtful he has survived the injuries,” he said.
Rear-Admiral Jayarathne said “we have no expectations about him now.”
He also said that no leaks had yet been spotted from the cargo holds.
Officials in Sri Lanka are anxiously watching the vessel as they are concerned about a possible spill from the stricken vessel as the island does not have the technical capacity to deal with a massive oil spill if the ship discharges its cargo into the sea.
The vessel caught fire yesterday while it was 38 kms off Sri Lanka heading to the Paradip Port in India carrying crude oil from Kuwait.
The fire originated in the Engine Room and a few hours later engulfed the bridge forcing the crew to abandon ship.
(Colombo, September 4, 2020)
Reported by Arjuna Ranawana and Chanka Jayasinghe