The Indian Ocean was on full alert again today as an oil supertanker caught fire off the coast of Sri Lanka and began spilling oil late evening on 3 September.
23 of the crew have been evacuated from the vessel with 1 still missing. The vessel, the MT New Diamond, is a Very Large Crude Carrier (VLCC) and was reportedly carrying 2 million barrels of oil. This is double the amount of oil that is putting the entire Red Sea region at risk with a deteriorating, abandoned Yemeni tanker.
The MT New Diamond was flagged in Panama, and had been travelling from Kuwait to India when an explosion occurred and a fire broke out in the engine room of the vessel early on Thursday morning.
The risk of another Panama-flagged vessel so soon after the Panama-flagged Wakashio, raises even more questions about the ability of the world’s largest ship registry to safely oversee vessels under its responsibility.
A statement released by the Indian navy said the New Diamond, was crewed by 5 Greek and 18 Philippine nationals.
Photographs taken by Sri Lanka’s Air Force and the Indian Navy showed extensive damage to the tanker’s funnel, and thick black smoke and flames coming from the bridge which controls the vessel. It is unclear how much of the hold – where the oil is being carried – has been impacted.
Teams from the Indian Air Force are on location following a request by the Sri Lankan authorities.
Two Russian anti-submarine ships and four Indian ships were also assisting in the operation.
Indian Navy spokesman Indika de Silva said that Indian coastal guards were on their way to assist, adding that two other ships anchored at a nearby harbour had agreed to help control the blaze.
Meanwhile, the head of Sri Lanka’s Marine Environment Protection Authority, Terney Pradeep Kumara, said the agency had sought help from neighboring India and international agencies to minimize damage from the spill.
3 September 2020: there are two Indian Navy and two Russian anti-submarine vessels supporting the large operation in the Northern Indian Ocean.
3 September 2020: there are two Indian Navy and two Russian anti-submarine vessels supporting Sri … [+] Photo: Indian Navy
The New Diamond, chartered by Indian Oil Corp (IOC), was sailing from the port of Mina Al Ahmadi in Kuwait, loaded with Kuwait Export Crude, satellite data from Refinitiv’s Eikon platform showed. It was heading for the Indian port of Paradip, where state-run IOC has a 300,000 barrel-per-day refinery.
As darkness fell, it was unclear how much of the fire had been brought under control
“We have been forced to call (off) attempts to control the fire due to poor visibility,” a spokesperson for the Sri Lanka Air Force said.
The vessel had caught fire 40 miles off the coast of Sri Lanka.
“A slight oil leak is visible,” said Dharshani Lahandapura, chairperson of Sri Lanka’s Marine Environment Protection Authority told Bloomberg. “We are analyzing the situation. It will be huge disaster if the spill occurs.”
Contrast with Mauritius response
The full international cooperation and transparency shown for the Sri Lanka operation is in stark contrast to the events in Mauritius where there have been silo-ed discussions with individual countries, a weak response from Japan where the ship owners and operators were based, and a slow response from the Government allowing the single-hull vessel to sit for 12 days on Mauritius’ coral reefs before the oil spill started.
The latest crisis in the Indian Ocean comes on the back of an emerging crisis in the Red Sea over an aging Yemen oil tanker that risks destroying many pristine corals in the region with its cargo of 1 million barrels of oil. Venezuela experienced a large oil spill in its national park a month ago, and Beirut Port was devastated with a massive explosion in its port on 4 August after unsafe cargo carried by a Moldovan-flagged vessel triggered a devastating explosion.
Calls are growing for global shipping reforms, following interventions by The Pope, Virgin Founder, Sir Richard Branson, and even the maritime industry’s own publications, at what is surely an unsustainable path that the industry is currently on.
Omura Whales: the new and rare species of whale recently discovered in Sri Lanka’s waters
Mother and calf Omura Whales enjoying their lunch in gulf of Thailand. Omura Whales were only just identified as a new whale species in 2003.
If the 2 million barrels of oil were to leak, it could spell devastation to many of the marine mammals that live in vibrant habitats along the coast of Sri Lanka.
So much is still being discovered about the oceans in this region and around Sri Lanka.
In 2017, Sri Lanka’s National Geographic Young Explorer, Asha de Vos, had discovered a rare species of whales in Sri Lanka’s waters for the first time.
The Omura Whale had only been identified as a separate species in 2003, and is extremely rare. It had been identified in different parts of the world, but was not known to be in Sri Lanka’s waters until the discovery in 2017.
Asha de Vos has also been instrumental in trying to create safer shipping passages through these protected areas and avoid whale strikes.
With a spate of major disasters linked to shipping in the past few weeks alone, will the leaders of the G20 have the courage to take on global shipping reform. The eyes of the world are watching.