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Govt. to seek regional support to extinguish fire of MT New Diamond

September 04, 2020

  • Says govt. ready to manage oil spill if happens

While taking necessary measures to extinguish fire on MT New Diamond and getting ready to manage a possible oil spill, the government is to seek support from regional countries if necessary.

Sri Lanka Navy’s (SLN) Director General (Operations) Rear Admiral Y.M Jayaratne confirmed that the MT New Diamond oil tanker was now at 22 nautical miles away from Sangaman Kanda Point and at a 3.1 km sea depth.

“We are vigilant on the situation and our first priority is to control the fire. After following safety procedure, the ship will be handed over to the owner for removal process”, he said addressing media at the Government Information Department, today (Sept 04).

The MT New Diamond oil tanker which was traveling 38 nautical miles from Sangaman Kanda Point under the Panama flag was caught in fire, yesterday (Sept 03).

According to Rear Admiral Jayaratne, the fire broke out in the ship's engine room and spread to the ship's administrative compartment, and the portion of the ship's crude was safe.

“Crude oil transporting ships are watertight double-hulled and therefore damage to crude oil is minimum”, he said adding that the SLN is trying to keep this area cool by pumping water regularly with Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) helicopter support.

He said compared to the prevailing situation of the tanker, there was no risk of an oil spill in the Sri Lankan waters as the ship was in 20 meters deep and away from 22 nautical miles away.

“Due to the nature of prevailing sea currents, it has a tendency to move slowly Southwards parallel to the coast. We are in the process of dowsing with the support of three SLN capital ships, one Indian Coast Guard ship and an Indian Navy’s capital ship.

According to Rear Admiral Jayaratne, the Indian Coast Guard fire brigade ships and specially trained personnel have also been deployed for this operation and two more such ships with helicopters are expected to arrive today.

Meanwhile, three tugboats capable of handling large ships in Sri Lanka has been added while another tugboat is arriving to support extinguishing fire on the tanker.

“We intend to control the fire and evacuate the ship safely. We also seek assistance from another Indian Coast Guard expert”, he said.

He confirmed that there were 23 people on board in the 20- years- old ship with a Japanese certificate and 19 of the crew were safe.

“The SLN acquired their knowledge in our process of dowsing the fire as they know well about the ship. One person has been hospitalized with severe burn injuries. He is now in a safe condition, however, one person in the engine room had been injured in the crash and his survival could not be expected,” he said adding that the SLN had informed all regional and other countries, which had already pledged their support.

Meanwhile, those who were in the ship were taken to another ship and the oil tanker is now floating towards the Southward of Sri Lanka.

Acting Chief of Defence Staff and Army Commander Lt Gen. Shavendra Silva also confirmed that the ship was carrying 270,000 metric tons of crude oil in addition to the oil required to the oil tanker.

He said the SLN and SLAF are engaged in controlling the emergency situation since yesterday morning.

SLAF Director (Operations) Air Vice Marshal Ravi Jayasinghe said SLAF had so far used over 100,000 liters of water on the ship while SLAF employed reconnaissance aircraft, MI 17 and Bell 212 helicopters to control the fire since yesterday”.

Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA) Chairperson Darshani Lahandapura while thanking the effort of SLN and SLAF to contain the situation said MEPA was responsible for minimizing and controlling coastal pollution and called a meeting of the Emergency Management Committee to take measures to face the emergency situation.

“If there is an oil leakage at sea, it would be one of the biggest disasters in the world. Therefore, the MEPA has sought support from regional countries to protect the sea since MEPA is not well-equipped to handle such a massive disaster alone. All available resources with us have already been placed in Kirinda, Hambanthota and Trincomalee.

She further said that MEPA was ready to resort to legal action against the owner of the ship and get the compensation to the damage caused to the environment and fishing community in the case of oil spilling.

“We are developing a contingency plan, with the support of DMC and other organization like the Coast Guard, Police and SLN to combat oil spill if occurs.

Director General Disaster Management Centre Maj. Gen. Sudantha Ranasinghe, DIG H.H. Chulasiri, Director General of Government Information Department Nalaka Kaluwewa,  Director General Merchant Shipping Ajith Seneviratne and Harbour Master Captain Nirmal Silva were also present at the media briefing.