05 SEPT 2020
After an all-day effort, the Indian Coast Guard working with teams from Sri Lanka is reporting that they have been able to bring the fire under control that has been raging for two days aboard the VLCC tanker New Diamond. Teams have also been able to board the tanker, which was drifting, and attach a tow line.
Concern had been growing as the fire appeared to be spreading out of control aboard the tanker, which is carrying approximately two million barrels of crude oil that was bound for an Indian oil refinery. The fire started around 7:45 a.m. local time on September 3 after a report of an explosion in the engine room. At first, the reports said it had been contained in the engine room but later pictures showed that it had spread to the bridge and accommodation block with concerns that it could damage the crude oil storage tanks. In addition, the Indian Navy reported that it had seen one or more cracks. They described one of the cracks as being 2 meters in length on the aft port side approximately 10 meters above the waterline.
Sri Lanka’s Marine Environment Protection Authority also raised concerns as the abandoned tanker was drifting towards the country. At the time the fire broke out, the ship was approximately 38 nautical miles offshore but the winds and currents had carried it to approximately 21 nautical miles. MEPA warned that the tanker would continue to approach Sri Lanka and it was closely monitoring the situation fearing either an explosion or oil leak.
A combination of vessels and aircraft began dousing the tanker with water yesterday continuing into the night. Ships from the Sri Lanka Navy were cooling both sides of the tanker while the Sri Lanka Airforce was making water drops from overhead. Four Indian vessels were also on the scene while two Russian Navy vessels had been dispatched to the area but later departed.
As of this morning, the Sri Lanka Navy reported that it had three ships on site along with two fast attack crafts. The Indian Navy and Coast Guard had their vessels there and aerial firefighting was set to resume at 5:30 a.m. local time. The captain of the New Diamond was assisting the firefighting operation.
As it appeared the fire was out on control, the Sri Lanka Ports Authority, Hambantota International Port Group, Colombo Dockyard Limited, Ceylon Petroleum Corporation, and Indian Oil Corporation combined to provide fire extinguishing chemicals. The chemicals were being transferred to the scene aboard the Sri Lanka Coast Guard ships Samudraraksha and Samaraksha and the Sri Lanka Navy ship Samudura sailing from the ports of the Hambantota, Colombo, and Trincomalee.
The Hambantota International Port Group also sent two of its tugs, the Rawana and Wasamba, to assist while the ship’s owner dispatched the tug ALP Winger to the site. As of 7 p.m. this evening local time, the ALP Winger was reported to have secured a tow line to the New Diamond. It was planned that they would be towing the tanker further out to sea while the different authorities continued to access the situation.
The crew of the New Diamond was initially rescued by the product tanker Helen M that was standing by to assist. Later they were transferred to the Sri Lanka Navy’s ships but were being isolated as precautions related to COVID-19. The ship’s third engineer, who was suffering from burns, was transferred to a hospital on shore. Preliminary information from the ship’s crew confirmed that a Filipino seaman onboard the tanker had died in the boiler explosion.