Fire on tanker off Sri Lanka under control, ship towed away

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — The fire on a large oil tanker off Sri Lanka’s coast has been brought under control but is still not extinguished, the navy said Saturday.

Four tug boats, three Sri Lankan navy ships and four Indian ships have been battling the fire on the MT New Diamond since Thursday. Two more Indian ships joined the effort Saturday evening.

The tanker, carrying nearly 2 million barrels of crude oil, was drifting about 20 nautical miles (37 kilometers) from Sri Lanka’s eastern coast. On Friday evening, a tug boat towed it farther out to sea, about 40 nautical miles (74 kilometers) off the coast, said navy spokesman Capt. Indika de Silva.

Fire extinguishing efforts went ahead all day Saturday.

“There is a risk of occasional fires due to deep sea winds and such unexpected fires are being controlled by tugs and Indian Coast Guard ships deployed on the location,” the navy said in a statement.

The fire killed one crew member and injured another. Both are Filipino.

The injured third engineer was hospitalized in stable condition.

The fire began in an engine room boiler but had not spread to the tanker’s oil storage area and no leak has been reported, the navy said. Sri Lankan officials have warned of possible massive environmental damage to Sri Lanka if the ship leaks or explodes.

The head of Sri Lanka’s Marine Environment Protection Authority, Darshani Lahandapur, said Sri Lanka does not have the resources or capacity to combat such a massive disaster and had appealed for help from regional countries.

She said her organisation plans to take legal action over the fire.

The tanker had 23 crew members — 18 Filipinos and five Greeks. Twenty-one crew left the tanker uninjured as the fire burned.

The tanker was transporting crude oil from the port of Mina Al Ahmadi in Kuwait to the Indian port of Paradip, where the state-owned Indian Oil Corp. has a refinery.

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