An oil tanker that caught fire on Thursday is being towed away from the east coast of Sri Lanka amid fears of a spill.
The tanker, the MT New Diamond, is carrying nearly two million barrels – 270,000 tonnes – of crude oil.
There are fears of significant environmental damage if the vessel explodes, or if there’s a spill.
Dharshani Lahandapura, the chair of Sri Lanka’s Marine Environmental Protection Authority (MEPA), warned “it could be a huge environmental disaster for the whole world”.
The fire on the 330-metre (1,083ft) vessel began in the engine boiler room but has not spread to the cargo area.
Attempts to tow it further out into the sea began after it started drifting closer to Sri Lanka’s shoreline.
The Sri Lankan army and India’s coastguard have both made efforts to put out the blaze with water cannon and helicopter drops.
One crew member is reported to have died and another was taken to hospital with injuries. The remaining 21 crew were safely removed from the vessel.
A two-metre crack was also observed in the hull, around 10 metres above the water line.
A spokesperson for the Sri Lankan navy said there was currently no threat of an oil spill due to flames dying down, but if one were to occur the country would “definitely need international support”.
The MEPA chairwoman said Sri Lanka did not have the resources or capacity to combat a spill and that South Asian countries had responded positively about providing help if needed.
She said MEPA would take legal action against the owner, Porto Emporios Shipping Inc, and that it had asked for legal advice from the attorney general.
Sudantha Ranasinghe, the head of Sri Lanka’s Disaster Management Centre, said the situation was “not as bad as it seems”.
“The fire has not spread to the cargo. Once the fire is put out, the vessel will be towed further away into deeper waters.”
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