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Salvagers working to repair leak on oil tanker off Sri Lanka

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Expert salvagers have begun working on a fire-stricken oil tanker off Sri Lanka’s coast after an Indian coast guard aircraft sprayed dispersants to contain an oil slick coming from the vessel, the Sri Lankan navy said Friday.

The MT New Diamond, which is carrying nearly 2 million barrels of crude oil, was damaged by two fires in a little over a week.

After the second fire was extinguished Wednesday, salvage experts climbed on board on the ship Thursday for inspections. They have now begun salvage work, giving priority to repair a leak in the ship’s fuel tank, said navy spokesman Indika de Silva.

The 17 experts include British and Dutch professionals — rescue operation specialists, disaster evaluators and legal consultants. They have been sent by New Shipping Ltd., the commercial owner of the New Diamond in Athens, Greece.

The oil slick near the ship is about 10 to 30 meters (yards) wide and about a nautical mile long and an aircraft from the Indian coast guard on Thursday sprayed dispersants on the slick, the navy said.

The patch is likely to be heavy fuel oil from the ship, it said. The ship has about 1,700 tons of heavy fuel oil to power its engines.

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

It also said the ship’s engine and pump rooms have been flooded with seawater, stabling in trim by aft condition. Therefore, it is suspected that the fuel slick was caused by sludge oozed with water, and is not a cargo leak.

Water samples taken from the site are being examined by government analysts as the Sri Lanka’s Marine Environment Protection Authority has said it plans to take legal action over the fire.

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.

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

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