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Experts Join Efforts to Salvage Burning Tanker off Sri Lanka

September 6, 2020

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — A team of experts is joining efforts to salvage a large oil tanker that has been burning for the fourth day Sunday off Sri Lanka, the country's navy said. 

Four tug boats, three Sri Lankan navy ships and six Indian ships have been battling the fire on the MT New Diamond since Thursday. An additional five Sri Lankan coast guard ships and gun boats are supplying the others vessels. 

Navy spokesman Indika de Silva said the fire on the ship has been brought under control but is still not extinguished. There was no leak. 

A team led by an expert is already on one of the tug boats while another 10 British and Dutch professionals including rescue operation specialists, disaster evaluators and legal consultants are expected to join the mission on Sunday, the navy said.

With engines shut down, the tanker carrying nearly 2 million barrels of crude oil drifted about 20 nautical miles (37 kilometers) from Sri Lanka's eastern coast on Friday before a tug boat towed it farther out to sea. It's now located about 40 nautical miles (74 kilometers) off the coast.

As ships and helicopters continue to douse flames, the navy said there was a risk of occasional fires due to deep sea winds but they're being controlled. 

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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