Colombo, Sep 4 (efe-epa).- A crew member missing from a supertanker that caught fire in the Indian Ocean off the eastern coast of Sri Lanka has been presumed dead, the island nation’s navy said on Thursday, as warships continue their battle to put out the blaze.
Navy spokesman Captain Indika de Silva told EFE that there were 23 crew members onboard the tanker.
“We are carrying out a rescue mission and saved 22 out of the 23 crew on board of the oil carrier. One crewman is still missing. We are presuming him dead,” the spokesperson said.
The vessel, New Diamond, was carrying about 2.7 million tonnes of crude oil from Kuwait to India’s Paradip seaport that houses a major oil refinery owned by the state-run firm Indian Oil.
The Panamanian vessel chartered by Indian Oil sent out a distress message on Thursday when it caught fire some 38 nautical miles off the coast of Sri Lanka.
Indian and Russian warships joined the Sri Lankan efforts to put out the blaze that broke out from the engine room of the tanker and spread to its upper deck.
De Silva said three Sri Lankan ships, two Indian Coast Guard vessels, a Dornier aircraft and two Russian Navy ships were carrying out a joint operation to douse the flames.
The Sri Lankan navy spokesperson said the blaze had not reached the cargo area where the crude oil is stored.
“If our operations are successful, we can contain it just in time before the oil sweeps into the sea water,” he added.
The Indian Coast Guard in a tweet said it had sent several ships and an aircraft to join the joint search and rescue efforts.
There were no reports of an oil spill in the area, it said, adding that emergency towing vessels were being deployed by India in the area.
Sri Lanka’s Marine Environmental Protection Authority head Dharshani Lahandapura told reporters that if the fire was not doused in time it could have catastrophic effects on marine diversity.
However, Lahandapura also underlined that they were prepared to respond adequately in case such a situation arose. EFE-EPA