CHENNAI: After 72 hours of firefighting, the Indian Coast Guard, along with the Indian and Sri Lankan Navies, has contained the blaze on the Panamanian flagship oil tanker MT New Diamond which is carrying 270,000 metric tonnes of crude oil.
It is most likely to be extinguished by Saturday night or in the next two days, according to Indian Coast Guard Inspector General K R Suresh, deputy director, general operations and coastal security.
The oil in MT New Diamond, a vessel chartered by the Indian Oil Corporation, is intact after the blaze erupted following an explosion on Thursday and it will be salvaged at the direction of the Sri Lankan government, he said.
The vessel was towed 40 nautical miles away from the Sri Lankan coast after the fire, which broke out in the engine room on Thursday following an explosion, resulting in a two-metre crack which has been observed from the weather deck. This crack is approximately 10 metres above the waterline on the port quarter deck.
The vessel was towed to ensure the safety of the Sri Lankan and Indian coasts from any possible impact of the oil spill after it started drifting towards Batticaloa. After it came as near as 25 nautical miles, for safety reasons it was towed away with the help of tugs from the Sri Lankan Navy as well as salvage companies, said Suresh. He said foam and water was constantly pumped to contain the fire which was spreading due to 3200 tonnes of heavy fuel oil.
Once the fire is extinguished, the pollution response will start in case there is an oil spill, said Suresh, while highlighting the role of the Sri Lankan Navy and its Air Force in helping contain the fire. It is learnt that Samudra Pahredar, a Pollution Control Vessel, has also reached the site.
Meanwhile, a Coast Guard spokesman said that Emergency Towing Vessels from Mumbai and Chennai have sailed to augment salvage and firefighting efforts. No oil spill has been reported so far, he said.
Owing to intense and continuous firefighting, the fire has been localised at Port Bridge Deck and Aft Ready Use tank area, said the spokesman. "Only plumes of white and black smoke are emanating. Aerial recce by Sri Lankan Airforce Beachcraft and spraying of water through Bambi Bucket by Sri Lankan Airforce MI-17 is in progress," the spokesman said.
According to the Coast Guard, its Fast Patrol Vessel (FPV) Ameya with 1000 litres OSD arrived in the area in the morning to augment pollution response efforts. Another FPV Abheek with 40 drums (200 kg each) aqueous film forming foams and 10 units of dry chemical powder (50 kg each) has arrived.
Two Indian Coast Guard Dornier aircraft with Oil Spill Dispersants (OSD) and Pollution Response Spray pods arrived from Hambantota on Friday night. A helicopter from Indian Coast Guard ship (ICGS) Sujay is being launched regularly for aerial assessment.
The blazing oil tanker was towed after New Diamond’s Captain along with a Coast Guard officer and sailor boarded it and assessed the towing and anchoring facilities. The Very Large Crude Carrier (VLCC) tanker, which was chartered by the Indian Oil Corporation (IOC), was travelling from Kuwait and was headed towards the Paradip Port in Odisha, where the state-run oil company operates a three lakh barrel-per-day refinery.