A Panamanian-flagged oil tanker remained in flames off Sri Lanka on Friday (September 4th) for the second day in a row, aggravating fears of a large-scale oil spill in the Indian Ocean after that of Mauritius end of August.
Sri Lankan military buildings and coast guards in neighboring India continued to attempt to extinguish the blaze with fire hoses while a Sri Lankan military helicopter dumped water.
Read also: Oil spill in Mauritius: a succession of errors at the origin of the disaster
Indian military ships were also en route to the burning tanker, filled with 270,000 tonnes of crude and 1,700 tonnes of diesel.
The ship had issued a distress call Thursday after an explosion in its engine room that killed one of the 23 crew members, a Filipino sailor.
The others were evacuated.
It will take another four to five days to completely overcome the fire,
" said Sri Lankan Vice-Admiral YN Jayaratne, who is coordinating the relief operations.
Then we should be able to tow it offshore and let the owners decide what they want to do
The vice-admiral ruled out any imminent danger of the 330-meter-long vessel breaking, even though the Indian Coast Guard participating in the operations reported a two-meter crack in the hull of the New Diamond ten meters above the line. flotation.
Concern in the Maldives
The metal gave way, he said, due to the intense heat emanating from the ship's diesel tanks when the fire spread from the engine room but did not spread to the oil cargo.
The Maldives, located a thousand kilometers southwest of Sri Lanka, worried about a possible oil spill from the New Diamond, fearing serious consequences for their environment.
This archipelago of 1,192 coral islands makes a living from fishing and tourism.
Ahmed Naseem, cabinet minister to the president of the Maldives, called for precautionary measures for his country, tweeting that an oil spill "
could be a major disaster
The Sri Lankan Disaster Management Center, however, ruled out any immediate danger.
It's not as bad as it
sounds," the head of the Center, Sudantha Ranasinghe, told AFP.
The fire did not spread to the cargo.
Once the flames are extinguished, the vessel will be towed further into deeper water
The authorities are considering a transshipment of the cargo, he said.
If the worst happens and the ship breaks, we would face the most serious oil spill
" in the region, however feared Dharshani Lahandapura, director of the Sri Lankan agency for the protection of the marine environment.
Sri Lanka does not have the means to curb it, she said, and legal action is being considered against the ship's owner, Porto Emporios Shipping Inc. which is headquartered in Liberia.
A sailor killed in the explosion
The Sri Lankan Navy confirmed on Friday the death of a Filipino sailor the day before in the explosion.
The other 22 crew members, including five Greeks and 17 Filipinos, were hoisted by helicopter.
Severely burned, the third officer of the tanker, also Filipino, was hospitalized in Kalmunai, 360 kilometers east of Colombo and is in stable condition.
Two Russian warships which initially came from the Sri Lankan port where they were refueling withdrew from the rescue operations for lack of specialized equipment, according to the Sri Lankan navy.
The VLCC (Very Large Crude Carrier) type tanker was about sixty kilometers east of the Sri Lankan coast when it launched its distress signal.
As the fire escalated, it drifted through the night, closing in on the Sri Lankan coastline.
According to Sri Lankan authorities, it had come 25 km closer to shore on Friday but is being pushed back offshore.
Sri Lanka and India have dispatched reconnaissance planes.
Departing from Kuwait for the Indian port of Paradip with a cargo destined for the Indian Oil Corp. company, the New Diamond is about thirty meters longer than the Japanese bulk carrier MV Wakashio which ran aground at the end of July on a reef in the South- East of Mauritius.
Three weeks later, the wreckage of the MV Wakashio shattered in two, after a race against time to pump the fuel it contained.
In the meantime, it had let out at least 1,000 tons of fuel oil that soiled the coast - including protected areas home to mangrove forests and endangered species - and the crystal-clear waters popular with tourists.