New Fire on Oil Tanker Off Sri Lanka

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) -- Ships and aircraft from Sri Lanka and India intensified efforts to extinguish a new fire on an oil tanker off Sri Lanka's coast on Tuesday, two days after the previous three-day blaze was doused, the navy said.

The MT New Diamond is carrying nearly 2 million barrels of crude oil and Sri Lankan officials have warned of possible massive environmental damage to Sri Lanka's coast if the ship leaks or explodes. The navy had said the initial fire began in an engine room boiler but did not spread to the tanker's oil storage area and no leak had been reported.

Navy spokesman Capt. Indika de Silva said the new fire started Monday evening and firefighting efforts were enhanced.

"The new fire reached up to the previous level, but it has now been contained, but flames are still there," de Silva said.

High winds, extreme temperatures and sparks reignited it, the navy said in statement.

Ships, tugboats and helicopters from Sri Lanka and neighboring India were part of the firefighting efforts.

The fire initially killed one Filipino crew member and injured another, but the rest escaped uninjured. The tanker had 23 crew members --- 18 Filipinos and five Greeks.

Twenty other crew members were brought to the southern port city of Galle on Tuesday. The captain remained on a ship at the location of the fire to help firefighting efforts, de Silva said.

The tanker had drifted to within 20 nautical miles (37 kilometers) of Sri Lanka's eastern coast before a tugboat towed it farther out to sea. The navy said it is now positioned about 30 nautical miles off the coast.

As the new fire rages, a team of scientists sent by the government visited the ocean area near the burning ship on Tuesday to determine whether the fire has damaged the marine environment.

The scientists, from state agencies and universities, will prepare a risk assessment, including the potential for an oil leak, said Terney Pradeep, general manager of Sri Lanka's Marine Environment Protection Authority. The authority has said it plans to take legal action over the fire.

Meanwhile, 10 British and Dutch professionals, including rescue operation specialists, disaster evaluators and legal consultants, reached the scene and were waiting to board the tanker to begin a salvage mission. The experts were sent by New Shipping Ltd., the commercial owner of the New Diamond in Athens, Greece, the navy said.

The tanker was transporting crude oil from the port of Mina Al Ahmadi in Kuwait to the Indian port of Paradip, where the state-owned Indian Oil Corp. has a refinery.