Oil tanker authorities likely neglected crew warnings on possible fire: Lankan court

COLOMBO: The authorities of the oil tanker that went up in flames off Sri Lanka’s eastern waters seemed to have neglected warnings from the crew on possible fire on board, a Sri Lankan court has heard.

The Panama registered MT (Motor Tanker) New Diamond, a Greek-owned vessel and under charter by the Indian Oil Corporation, was carrying nearly two million barrels of crude oil from Mina Al Ahmadi port in Kuwait to the Indian port of Paradip when it caught fire off the coast of Sangamankanda in Ampara district on Thursday last.

A Filipino crew member died and another was injured in the mishap. The fire was doused in a joint operation of the Indian and Sri Lankan forces on Sunday last.

But a new fire broke out within hours due to extreme heat and strong winds. After the second fire was brought under control on Wednesday, the tanker was towed away from the site.

According to the Lankan Navy a narrow diesel patch, one km from the ship, was noticed on Monday evening and an Indian Coast Guard aircraft sprayed dispersants to minimise potential damage to the marine environment.

The state authorities sought court’s permission to obtain oil samples on board the vessel to carry out tests to verify that the oil leaks visible in the surrounding sea area were those from the tanker.

The oil slick near the ship is about 10 to 30 metre wide and about a nautical mile long.

During the hearing of the case on Thursday, the state lawyers told the Colombo Chief Magistrate that the tanker’s authorities seemed to have neglected warnings from the crew on the possibility of fire on board.

They had failed to see the activation of the fire fighting equipment on board the tanker.

The court permitted the Marine Environmental Protection Authority (MEPA) personnel to board the oil tanker and directed the authorities to obtain samples from the crude oil stored inside the tanker and the copies of the vessel data records.

The court also ordered the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) to record statements of the 22 crew members, including the Captain, of the tanker, which is currently 45 nautical miles (83 km) off Sri Lanka’s east coast.

The Attorney General had earlier advised the officials concerned to compile a report of the costs for Sri Lanka in tackling the fire.

The MEPA had said it plans to take action against the ship’s owner under the country’s laws to protect the marine ecosystem.

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