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Experts join efforts to salvage burning tanker off Sri Lanka’s coast

A team of experts from a Singapore-based company is joining efforts to salvage an oil tanker that went up in flames in Sri Lanka’s eastern waters, the country’s navy said on Sunday, a day after the fire was brought under control with India’s help.

The Sri Lanka Navy said the commercial owners of the tanker had appointed an international Singapore-based company as its salvage expert.

Two more large tugboats that can handle crude oil tankers have already left Singapore and Mauritius to join the salvage operations of Panama-registered tanker MT New Diamond that caught fire on Thursday.

The ship was carrying 2,70,000 metric tonnes of crude oil from Kuwait to India. The Sri Lanka Navy on Friday confirmed that a Filipino sailor died in the boiler explosion in the engine room of the ship.

Indian ships are supporting the Sri Lanka Navy to douse the flames on the tanker off the coast of Sangamankanda in the eastern district of Ampara. The fire has been brought under control but is still not extinguished.

Some five ships of the Indian coast guard and one Indian Navy ship were still engaged in firefighting, the Navy said. The Sri Lanka Navy and others, who had joined the rescue operations, are continuing to use extinguishing agents and water to douse the fire. The operation was carried out in safe waters 40 nautical miles away from the shores, the Navy said.

It said an additional 10 professionals from the UK and the Netherlands with expertise in rescue operations, disaster evaluation, and legal consultation will be arriving in the country on Sunday.

For the first time since the accident, 20 crew members who were rescued will connect with their families over the telephone, it said.

“The joint disaster relief operation, which is being carried out on the instruction of experts, has successfully contained the spread of the ship’s fire and there is no report of the ship leaking oil into the sea,” the Navy said.

The Navy said on Saturday that they were assisted by the Air Force and the Ports Authority as well as the Indian Navy and the Indian Coast Guard who were working jointly.

The disaster relief operation was joined by the Indian Coast Guard Ship (ICGS) Sarang, ICGS Sujay, TTT One — a tug equipped with firefighting equipment and professional firefighters, and 02 Dornier aircraft of Indian Coast Guard since the previous night, it said in a statement.

The tanker had 23 crew members — 18 Filipinos and five Greeks. Twenty-two of the 23-member crew had been safely rescued off the tanker.