While claiming that there was no risk of an oil spill from the Oil Tanker which is on fire in mid-sea or the ship breaking apart due to the fire, the Sri Lanka Navy today said they were monitoring the situation and was taking every effort to douse the fire with the assistance of all stakeholders and international support.
Director General Operations, Rear Admiral Y.N. Jayarathna said the Indian Coast Guard and Indian Navy were working with the Navy to control the fire.
“The ship is 22 nautical miles off the coast. It is drifting slowly towards the South parallel to the coast,” he said.
He said CEO of the Indian Coast Guard Vessel has informed the Navy that there was a crack in the port quarter of the ship.
“CEO of the Indian Coast Guard Vessel has reported to its office about a crack on the port-quarter of the ship and it has been reported to us as well. Yes, we see a crack on the port-quarter of the ship because of the intense heat. The fire is contained to the port-quarter of the ship right now, to be more precise, under the superstructure. When there is intense heat for some time in one place, steel plates get deformed and the welding lines crack. It does not mean that the ship was cracking or breaking apart or that an oil spill is going to take place. This ship has 20 metres of draft. That is, the ship has 20 metres beneath the waterline. Draft is the distance between the ship's keel and the waterline of the vessel,” he said.
Explaining the worst case scenario of the incident, the Admiral said that if the fire continues for six to seven weeks, the hull cracks and the ship breaks apart resulting in an oil spill.
“If we cannot control the fire for six to seven days, the hull cracks and the ship would break. It start tilting. If that happens, we will have to put booms. In fighting oil fires, there is a process called boom laying. The complete ship is encircled. 1500 meters is quite enough to encircle the complete ship. There is intense pressure underneath water. That pressure itself, limits the oil spill,” he said and added that “we will be able to control the spill. We need international support to clean up the oil spill, if it ever happens.
Meanwhile, Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA) Chairperson, Dharshani Lahandapura said if there was an oil spill, it would be an environmental hazard to the whole world and added that the MEPA was in coordination with local and international organisations to prepare and act in case of an oil spill.
“We have minimal resources to face an oil spill. We have requested South Asian countries for assistance. We have taken every possible action to minimise the impact of the oil spill. We have stationed our equipment like booms in Kirinda, Hambantota and Trincomalee. We, in partnership with the Disaster Management Centre (DMC), have informed fisher-folk not to move within five nautical miles of the ship,” she said.
She said the MEPA had sought legal assistance from the Attorney General’s Department to take legal action against the ship's owners and obtain compensation.
“We are taking legal action on the advice of the AG's Department against the company that owns the ship. We have lodged a complaint with the Thirukkovil Police as the initial step. The act has given us authority to take criminal action against the connected parties and get compensation. We can claim insurance for the loss incurred by Sri Lanka,” she said. (Ajith Siriwardana)