Raging tanker fire sparks fears of a new Indian Ocean disaster

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The New Diamond is carrying 270,000 tonnes of crude
The New Diamond is carrying 270,000 tonnes of crude – Sri Lankan Air Force/AFP

A Panamanian-registered oil tanker burned out of control for a second day off Sri Lanka on Friday, raising fears of a major new oil spill in the Indian Ocean.

Sri Lankan navy and India coastguard fired water cannon while an air force helicopter dropped water on the drifting New Diamond.

More Indian navy vessels were heading to the scene to help fight the blaze on the tanker which was carrying 270,000 tonnes of crude and 1,700 tonnes of diesel.

One Filipino crew member was confirmed to have died in an engine room explosion on Thursday which sparked the alert, the Sri Lankan navy said.

The other 22 crew — five Greek and 17 Filipino – were taken off the 330-metre (1,080-foot) vessel and the fire had not spread to the cargo by mid-morning Friday, officials said.

The ship was on its way from Kuwait to the eastern Indian port of Paradip when it issued a distress signal 60 kilometres (38 miles) from Sri Lanka’s east coast.

As the fire grew, the stricken vessel drifted about 10 kilometres closer to the shore, Sri Lankan officials said.

India’s coastguard said there was a two-metre crack in the New Diamond’s hull about 10 metres above the water line.

Both India and Sri Lanka have deployed reconnaissance planes to track the ship, officials said. However, Sri Lanka’s Disaster Management Centre said there was no immediate danger of a spill.

“It is not as bad as it seems,” DMC head Sudantha Ranasinghe told AFP. “The fire has not spread to the cargo. Once the fire is put out, the vessel will be towed further away into deeper waters.”

He said authorities were considering a ship-to-ship transfer of the crude before salvaging the tanker.

– Maldives fear disaster –

The vessel is larger than the Japanese bulk carrier MV Wakashio, which crashed into a reef in Mauritius in July leaking more than 1,000 tonnes of oil into the island nation’s pristine waters.

Sri Lanka’s neighbour Maldives has raised concerns that a possible oil spill from the New Diamond could cause serious environmental damage.

The Maldives depends on fisheries and tourism and the country has one of the world’s best coral eco systems.

Maldivian minister at the president’s office, Ahmed Naseem, called for precautionary measures in the Indian Ocean archipelago of 1,192 coral islands.

The Maldives is located about 1,000 kilometres (625 miles) southwest of Sri Lanka.

“Maldives needs to watch this oil spill carefully and take all precautions to prevent it from reaching her shores,” Naseem said on Twitter. “This could be a major disaster.”

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