ECONOMYNEXT – A team of experts are on their way to Sri Lanka to deal with the burning Supertanker carrying millions of tons of crude oil adrift in waters off the island, the country’s Navy said.
Large tugs are towing the tanker MT New Diamond towards the east away from Sri Lankan waters as the drifting vessel had come within 25km from the island’s eastern shore off Thirukovil last night.
The vessel’s owners have appointed SMIT Salvage, a world-renowned salvage company for the operation officials said.
The first salvage tug with greater firefighting capabilities and 208-ton pulling power reached the stricken vessel last night.
The Navy spokesman Captain Indika de Silva told EconomyNext that as of 11:00 am the fire was still burning and that two more Indian ships are due to join in the operation to control the fire today.
He said the team of experts would be brought in by Charter flight today.
Last night the burning supertanker carrying 2.7 million tons of crude oil had drifted within 25 kilometres of the South-Eastern coast.
The ship is adrift as the crew had been forced to leave the ship due to the fire. Most of the crew members are on Sri Lanka Navy vessels that are with the burning tanker.
There are three SLN vessels and two Russian warships which joined them yesterday have left, he said.
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.
The captain of the ship is also with the Sri Lankan Navy and is coordinating the fire-fighting de Silva said.
The rest of the 24-member crew are accounted for.
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.
Dharshani Lahandapura, Chair of the Marine Environmental Protection Authority (MEPA) Sri Lanka told EconomyNext that if the cargo and the diesel on board the vessel were to leak out it would have disastrous consequences.
She said Sri Lanka on its own will not be able to handle such a big disaster.
“If there is a leakage we are talking about 3.4 million metric tons of crude oil and diesel. We cannot even measure the impact of it on the environment,” Lahandapura said.
She said MEPA is coordinating with the South Asian region as well as international organizations to get support to counter this situation.
“And also we have already prepared the equipment and other resources to counter a possible leakage of crude oil and we will send them to Hambantota immediately,” she said.
The Sri Lankan Meteorological Department also issued an oil-spill warning for the East Coast of the island.
The vessel caught fire yesterday while it was 38 km 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