Latest fire extinguished on oil tanker off Sri Lanka

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — A fresh fire on a large oil tanker drifting off Sri Lanka’s coast was extinguished on Wednesday after burning for two days, the navy said, as experts prepared to salvage the vessel.

A new blaze broke out Monday on the MT New Diamond, which was carrying nearly 2 million barrels of crude oil, and reached the magnitude of last week's fire, only a day after a three-day blaze was extinguished. The first fire began on Thursday.

Officials have warned of massive environmental damage to Sri Lanka’s coast if the ship leaks or explodes.

“The fire has now been extinguished and the ship is being towed by a tugboat to out to sea,” said navy spokesperson Indika de Silva.

“There are no flames or smoke to be noticed as of now,” he said, adding that the navy's specially trained firefighting and disaster management team will join with firefighting experts from India's coast guard and specialists sent by the ship's owner on Wednesday to assess the situation.

Ten British and Dutch professionals, including rescue operation specialists, disaster evaluators and legal consultants, reached the scene on Monday and are waiting to board the tanker to begin the mission of salvaging it. The experts were sent by New Shipping Ltd., the commercial owner of the New Diamond in Athens, Greece.

The tanker is about 30 nautical miles (55 kilometers) off the coast and the plan is to position it is at 40 nautical miles to facilitate salvaging work, de Silva said.

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.

High winds, extreme temperatures on the ship and sparks reignited the fresh fires, the navy said, adding that so far there is no risk of an oil leak or of the fire spreading into the oil storage area.

The navy said the initial fire began in an engine room boiler but did not spread to where the oil is kept.

The navy said Tuesday that “a diesel patch” had been spotted in the ocean about 1 kilometer (half a mile) from the ship. The patch is likely to be diesel fuel from the ship, it said. The ship has about 1,700 tons of fuel to power its engines.

An Indian coast guard aircraft sprayed a chemical on the patch to minimize damage.

The initial fire killed one Filipino crew member and injured another, while 21 other crew members escaped uninjured.

Twenty of them were taken to the southern port city of Galle on Tuesday, while the captain remained on a ship near the tanker to help with firefighting efforts.

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