New fire extinguished on large oil tanker off Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka's navy says a new fire on a large oil tanker drifting off Sri Lanka’s coast has been extinguished after burning for two days, as experts prepare to begin salvaging the vessel

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka -- A new fire on a large oil tanker drifting off Sri Lanka’s coast was extinguished on Wednesday after burning for two days, the navy said, as experts prepared to salvage the vessel.

The new blaze broke out Monday on the MT New Diamond, which is carrying nearly 2 million barrels of crude oil, and reached the magnitude of an earlier fire last week.

Officials have warned of massive environmental damage to Sri Lanka’s coast if the ship leaks or explodes.

“The fire has now been extinguished and the ship is being towed by a tugboat out to sea,” navy spokesperson Indika de Silva said. He said three experts boarded the ship on Wednesday to assess the situation before the start of salvage work.

The tanker is currently about 30 nautical miles (55 kilometers) off the coast.

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.

High winds, extreme temperatures on the ship and sparks reignited the fresh fires, the navy said, adding that so far there is no risk of an oil leak or of the fire spreading into the oil storage area.

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

The navy said Tuesday that “a diesel patch” had been spotted in the ocean about 1 kilometer (half a mile) from the ship. The patch is likely to be diesel fuel from the ship, it said. The ship has about 1,700 tons of fuel to power its engines.

An Indian coast guard aircraft sprayed a chemical on the patch to minimize environmental damage.

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

Twenty of them were taken to the southern port city of Galle on Tuesday, while the captain remained on a ship near the tanker to help with firefighting efforts.