Govt. to assess damages and loss due to super tanker fire

Monday, 7 September 2020 00:53 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Sri Lanka Air Force Bell-212 from No. 7 Squadron drops dry chemical powder (DCP) to aid firefighting as the tanker ‘MT New Diamond’ as ocean-going tug APL Winger continues fighting the blaze

  • Combined effort by Sri Lanka, India and commercial tugs douse fire 
  • Navy tows MT New Diamond to 40 nautical miles off East coast, cooling operation continues
  • Salvage specialist sent by ship owners reach MT New Diamond 
  • AG directs authorities to prepare assessment of damages and impact of potential oil leak 
  • MEPA directed to visit scene of incident, assess any damages to environment, cost incurred by Govt.

By Asiri Fernando

A team of salvage specialist from SMIT Singapore Ltd. reached the stricken super tanker ‘MT New Diamond’ last night, as the Government began to assess the loss and damage to the environment and State from a possible oil spill from the vessel. 

The team of salvage experts arrived at Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport (MRIA) and were rushed to the super tanker after being subjected to PCR testing in line with ongoing COVID-19 regulations. 

According to the Navy, a consolidated effort by Sri Lankan, Indian and commercial respondents managed to douse the fire on board the ‘New Diamond’ and hold her 40 nautical miles from the Eastern shores, in spite of rough sea conditions. 

Navy also said that the cooling operations were to continue to ensure there is no reigniting aboard the vessel.  

The Attorney General (AG) yesterday directed the Maritime Environmental Protection Authority (MEPA) to visit the area of the incident occurred and to assess if any pollution or damage to the marine environment has occurred. “The AG had held a stakeholder meeting yesterday and advised on possible legal action and issued directives on making relevant assessments. The Sri Lanka Navy, MEPA, Sri Lanka Ports Authority and the Merchant Shipping Secretariat had attended the meeting,” Attorney General’s Coordinating Secretary State Counsel Nishara Jayaratne said. 

According to Jayaratne, the AG has directed authorities to coordinate and prepare a cost assessment of the incident and to carry out an assessment of the stability and structural integrity of ‘’MT New Diamond’, the damages incurred to the vessel and obtain a risk assessment of a potential oil leak.

The AG has also tasked authorities with preparing an environmental damage assessment and to draft contingency plans to mitigate and control any possible oil leak from the ‘New Diamond’. 

The AG has stressed that if an oil leak occurs, contingency plans and disaster mitigation measure should be in place. 

A total of 16 vessels, including four from the Sri Lankan Navy, seven Indian Navy and Coast Guard ship, aided by Tugs Ravana and Wasaba from the Hambantota Port and Tugs called in by the vessel owners; APL Winger, TTT One and Ocean Bliss managed to get the fire onboard ‘New Diamond’ doused and tow her away from the coast. 

Mi-17 and Bell-212 helicopters from the Sri Lanka Air Force used ‘Bambi bucket’ devices to water bombed and dropped firefighting dry chemical power (DCP) on to the vessel to aid in putting out the fire.  Maritime surveillance aircraft from the Sri Lanka Air Force and Indian Coast Guard also joined in to coordinate the rescue, firefighting operation and provide situational awareness. A number of local State and private organisations had contributed firefighting foam mixtures to be used dousing the blaze, raising the question of whether Sri Lanka has adequately prepared to respond to emergencies in its area of responsibility in the Indian Ocean.    

A possible oil spill of the magnitude from a super tanker like the ‘MT New Diamond’ would require both regional and international support and coordination. However, industry experts have pointed out that Sri Lanka has not invested adequate firefighting, salvage and pollution control capabilities befitting of nations maritime ambitions. 

Further, Sri Lanka has a responsibility to respond effectively to emergencies at sea in a large Search and Rescue (SAR) region many times the land mass of the country. Being a coastal State, Sri Lanka is a party to the United Nation Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and International Convention of Safety of Lives at Sea (SOLAS),Sri Lanka is duty bound to provides maritime search and rescue services.  

The MT New Diamond was 38 nm (70 km) off Sangamankada Point on the East Coast when the distress call was issued last Wednesday. The 20-year-old Panamanian-registered super tanker (330 m long) was carrying a consignment of 270,000 MT of Crude oil for the Indian Oil Company from a port in Kuwait to the Indian port of Paradip when the fire broke out.