Tanker with 2 million barrels of oil catches fire off Sri Lanka, one crewman presumed dead

VIDEO: REUTERS
Panamanian-registered crude oil tanker MT New Diamond reported a fire inside the engine room.
Panamanian-registered crude oil tanker MT New Diamond reported a fire inside the engine room.PHOTO: AFP

COLOMBO (BLOOMBERG, REUTERS) - An oil tanker loaded with two million barrels of Kuwaiti crude sailing toward India’s Paradip refinery caught fire on Thursday (Sept 3) morning off Sri Lanka’s coast, raising concerns about an oil spill.

The fire in the engine room of New Diamond, a very large crude carrier, was caused by an explosion, said Sri Lanka Navy spokesman Indika de Silva.

The fire spread to other parts of the vessel, according to the Sri Lanka Navy. Parts of the blaze have since been doused, the Indian Coast Guard said in a Twitter post on Friday. A crack of about 2m has been seen 10m above the waterline in the rear of the tanker’s port side, it added.

The Sri Lanka Navy deployed two vessels for rescue operations, Indian Coast Guard diverted three ships and an aircraft, while clean tanker Helen M was also pressed into service. The fire has not reached the cargo area, Mr de Silva said on Friday.

While, there have been no reports of large-scale oil leakage, Sri Lankan authorities are deploying equipment to prevent pollution. The area is south of a belt well known for whale sightings, and any oil spill could threaten marine life in the region.

New Diamond was about 65km off the east coast of Sri Lanka when it caught fire, according to ship-tracking data compiled by Bloomberg. The cargo was loaded at Mina al Ahmadi on Aug 23 and scheduled to arrive at Paradip on Sept 5.

The tanker has drifted closer and was positioned about 24 nautical miles from the Sri Lankan coast at 5.30am local time, said Mr Dharshani Lahandapura, chairman of Sri Lanka’s Marine Environment Protection Authority.

“We are analysing the situation. It will be huge disaster if the spill occurs.”

​There were five Greek and 18 Philippine nationals among the crew. One of them was injured and was airlifted out of the ship.

All but one of the 23 New Diamond crew, have been rescued, Mr de Silva said. A Filipino crew member missing is presumed dead. 

"The missing Filipino sailor is presumed dead," Mr de Silva said. "He was badly injured when a boiler exploded."

The vessel was chartered by Indian Oil Corp, a spokesman for India’s biggest state refiner said. Indian Oil operates a 15 million tonne-a-year oil refinery at Paradip in India’s eastern state of Odisha.