Fire is one of the fearsome enemies of the sailors. Although the ships are equipped with full gear for fighting fire and it is kept in state of readiness, and the ship’s crew is trained to handle the fire, yet the fires on ships occur at frightening regularity. Regular drills are carried to keep the operational readiness of the fire fighting equipment and the mental preparedness of the crew on board, still the instances of fires onboard the vessels are fairly common in which losses to the business of shipping running in millions of dollars are incurred every year and often many precious lives are lost.
The latest incident that has made the headline news occurred on 3rd September 2020. It has been reported that a fire broke out in the engine room of a Panamian Registered ship named New Diamond at around 07:45 local time. The ship was about 65 kilometres (40 mi) east of Sri Lanka in the Sangaman Kanda Point. The ship was carrying 270,000 tonnes of oil loaded from Mina al Ahmadi in Kuwait and was headed for the Paradip refinery in India. It had eighteen Filipino and five Greek crew members on board. The cargo was loaded on 23rd August 2020 and the vessel was due to arrive at Paradip on 5th September. The ship was chartered for the voyage by the Indian Oil Corporation.
Reuters reported that the fire was triggered by an explosion and was initially brought under control before spreading upwards to the ship’s bridge. The Sri Lankan Marine Environment Protection Authority said it believed that the ship’s cargo tanks were intact following the fire, but that a slight oil slick had been sighted, perhaps from the fuel oil on board. MEPA stated that during the early hours on 4 September 2020, two explosions were reported from the MT New Diamond. Sri Lankan Army told that there was no danger of oil leak from the oil tanker as of 4 September 2020.
Much isn’t yet known about what caused the fire. The news channels are reporting about Boiler explosion, which after having spent my life time in the Engine Rooms of the ships, I am unable to understand, what exactly do they mean. Boiler has a furnace and there can be fire in/around the boiler but for an explosion to occur a lot of safeties need to be bypassed, which I don’t think is easy, but accidents do happen.
From the incident which seems to have occurred instantaneously, explosion appears to be the only plausible cause, because the ships are very well equipped to handle the fires. Only, the explosion may not give the people onboard, ample time to respond to the emergency.
I will need to post another blog when I get details of the incident, but what is remarkable is that still the cargo of 270,000 metric tonnes of crude oils is safe. For the people who may not be able to understand this, let me say that the oil this ship is loaded with is sufficient for a year long supply of petrol and diesel of a mid-sized Indian town for a year. One cannot make even a remotest guess of the extent of damage to the environment that will result should the cargo catches fire. Fortunately, so far it hasn’t happened and I am confident the fire will be brought under control.
The ship is a floating mass. What will happen to its stability, after some parts of it are burnt down to ashes? The cargo tanks are away from the Engine Room where the fire has originated, but within the boundaries of the ship the adjectives ‘far’ and ‘near’ are ridiculously irrelevant especially for the raging fires, and more so when the contents are highly inflammable. It is so different from fighting the fires on shore. Agreed, the chances of loss of life and spread of fire are far less in case of the fire on an abandoned ship, but the extent of environmental damage that may result as a consequence is unfathomable. The fire is posing grave damage to the environment and maritime ecosystem in the region.
Indian maritime agencies have risen to the occasion and are heading the effort to control the disaster relief. As of Friday evening, the Indian Coast Guard (ICG) has deployed six ICG ships and two aircraft for fire-fighting and pollution response. “Marine pollution response and containment equipment along with oil spill dispersants mobilised in event of pollution,” Coast Guard said in a statement.
“According to news agency IANS, the vessel has been chartered by Indian Oil Corp (IOC). What has worried researchers and maritime observers is the fact that the Indian Coast Guard observed a two-metre-long crack near the Port aft portion, 10 metres above the waterline. It is not established whether the cargo has caught fire”.
Here is some encouraging development, though it must have been a very dangerous but a daring feat. All efforts seem to be towards containing the damage to the environment.
“New Delhi: Oil tanker MT New Diamond, which caught fire after an explosion has been towed from Sri Lanka coast to safe waters successfully, Indian Coast Guard (ICG) said on Saturday.”
22 out of 23 crew were rescued on Friday from the oil tanker off the east of Sri Lankan coast. The rescue mission was being jointly conducted by Search and Rescue (SAR) operation, ICG ships, and Sri Lankan Navy, while two emergency towing vessels were deployed by India.
“#ICG & Sri Lankan ships and aircraft along with tug ALP Winger after consolidated efforts successfully towed #MT New Diamond more than 35 NM away from #SriLanka coast to safe waters. #FireFighting continues and fire now reduced. No oil slick reported,” ICG tweeted earlier this morning
In a tweet on Friday, ICG had said, “Concerted joint #SAR & #FireFighting efforts by ICG Ships, SL Navy & tugs resulted in the rescue of 22 out of 23 crew safely. Search for 01 missing crew (Filipino) in progress. No oil spill reported in the area. 02 Emergency Towing Vessels being deployed by GoI for #MT New Diamond.”
The Coast Guard had earlier said that after Sri Lankan Navy sought their assistance for fighting the fire, it immediately diverted ICG Ship Shaurya, besides a Dornier aircraft for the oil tanker MT New Diamond.
“#FireFighting in progress in consultation with Master of #MT New Diamond onboard #ICG ship Shaurya along with Tug APL Winger. Additional #ICG ship Ameya & Abheek being deployed #today in PR configuration to augment efforts. 02 CG Dornier aircraft also being deployed for air efforts,” ICG had informed via tweet.
Let’s hope with all those co-ordinated efforts the fire will be extinguished and the cargo saved, from spilling in to the sea.
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