Sri Lankan Navy Tows Stricken Tanker Away From Coast, Indian Plane Sprays Trailing Slick

September 9, 2020 Updated: September 9, 2020

COLOMBO—The Sri Lankan navy towed a stricken supertanker away from the Indian Ocean island’s east coast on Wednesday, while an Indian Coast Guard plane sprayed chemical dispersants on a long oil slick that trailed in its wake.

A fire broke out in the engine room of the Greek-owned New Diamond tanker last Thursday. The blaze was believed to have been doused on Sunday but reignited a day later.

A Sri Lankan Navy boat sprays water
A Sri Lankan Navy boat sprays water on the New Diamond, a very large crude carrier (VLCC) chartered by Indian Oil Corp (IOC), that was carrying the equivalent of about 2 million barrels of oil, after a fire broke out off east coast of Sri Lanka, on Sept. 8, 2020. (Sri Lankan Airforce media/Handout via Reuters)

Laden with 2 million barrels of crude oil, there are fears that the accident could cause an environmental disaster, but so far the slicks have resulted from escaping marine fuel oil rather than leaking crude.

“This morning when we started moving the ship we noticed another slick trailing behind. It was about 1-2 nautical miles (1.8-3.6 kilometers), longer than the previous slick,” said Indika de Silva, spokesman for the Sri Lankan Navy.

The first slick, spotted on Tuesday, had been around a kilometer long.

The slick, comprising marine fuel and residue from the fire, has been sprayed with chemical dispersants from a Dornier aircraft deployed by the Indian Coast Guard, de Silva said.

Three members of a salvage team boarded the tanker on Wednesday to assess the damage, while a naval tug towed the vessel 41 nautical miles (76 kilometers) off Sri Lanka’s east coast.

Greece-based Porto Emporios Shipping Inc. is the registered owner of the 20-year old Panama-flagged very large crude carrier New Diamond, according to Refinitiv data. New Shipping Ltd is the manger of the vessel. There was no immediate comment from either company.

Legal action would be filed against the owner under Sri Lankan laws protecting the marine ecosystem, Jagath Gunesekara, deputy general manager of the Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA) said.

“We are deciding whether to claim criminal liability or civil liability or both,” Gunesekara said.

Sri Lanka has deployed scientists and experts from MEPA, with one team examining the area around the ship and another surveying coastal areas for signs of pollution.

“I have been informed there was some marine life, like turtles, closer to the incident, so this oil spill would have definitely damaged these species,” MEPA chairwoman Dharshani Lahandapura told Reuters.

By Waruna Karunatilake and Arjuna Ranawana