September 4, 2020 - 17:27 AMT
Oil tanker towed from Sri Lanka shoreline amid spill fears

A massive oil tanker on fire off the eastern coast of Sri Lanka is being towed out to sea amid fears of a major new oil spill in the Indian Ocean, the BBC reports.

The Panamanian-registered vessel, which began burning on Thursday, September 3, is carrying about 270,000 tonnes of crude oil.

Sri Lanka's navy and India's coastguard have attempted to douse the blaze with water cannon and helicopter drops.

One Filipino crew member died in an engine room explosion that sparked the fire, the Sri Lankan navy said.

The remaining 22 crew, consisting of five Greeks and 17 Filipinos, were taken off the ship, officials said.

The 330-metre (1,080-foot) vessel - the New Diamond - is owned by Liberia-based Porto Emporios Shipping Inc.

A spokesperson for the Navy said on Friday there was no immediate threat of an oil spill, but that in the event of a spill Sri Lanka would "definitely need international support".

The navy also said that the Indian coast guard had observed a 2m crack in the New Diamond's hull about 10m above the water line.

Dharshani Lahandapura, the chair of Sri Lanka's Marine Environmental Protection Authority (MEPA), warned that an oil spill from the ship would be "one of the biggest environmental disasters not only in the region but in the world".

She said the MEPA would take legal action against the owners of the ship in the event of a spill.

Photo: EPA