October 23, 2020
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Firefighting by ICG off SriLankan Coast

ICG spearheaded a perilous fire fighting operation that lasted over 07 days, in dousing anintense fire onboard the 333 mtr long Oil Tanker off Sri Lankan East Coast, carrying about 3lakh Metric Tons of crude oil {Cat 1 (inflammable liquid as per MSDS)}, thus averting a serious disaster in the region which otherwise would have threatened the bio-diversified marine environment of Sri Lanka, Maldives and Southern India.Comparing with the recent oil-spill mishap of 1000 T Bunker Oil from MV Wakashio witnessed off Mauritius in Aug 2020 that led to declaration of “National Emergency” by the Island Nation, the quantum of crude in this incident was 270 times volumnuous. It is left to imagination that how devastating an oil spill of this high magnitude would have been for the region.

MT New Diamond, a Panama flagged vessel with 23 crew, was on passage from Kuwait to India (Paradip Port), reported fire due to boilerexplosion aboard on the morning of 03 Sep 2020 about 40NM (approx. 70 km) of Tirrukkovil (SouthEast Sri Lankan Coast).The distress message was picked-upby Maritime Rescue Coordination Center (MRCC), Colombo as also by MRCC Mumbai. Sri Lankan Government, post assessing the situation,requestedimmediate support of India through HCI in Sri Lanka.

 

Indian Coast Guard is the authority for NationalMaritime Search & Rescue (NMSAR), National Coordinating authority for Oil Spill Response in Indian watersand Competent National Authority under the Regional South Asian Co-operative Environment Program (SACEP) for responding and coordinating Marine pollution response in South Asian Sea region. The SACEP Sri Lanka, sought assistance of ICG,as the threat of Oil Spill to the entire region was imminentto conduct Rescue and Fire Fighting Operation on the ill-fated Tanker, including Pollution Response operation, India being a signatory to the Regional association mechanism.


 

 

A multi-mission capable Offshore Patrol Vessel ICGS Shaurya, on Preventive Deployment off Tamil Nadu coast immediately diverted and was the first ship to arrive at the “Golden Hour” on scene to commence fire fighting by afternoon on same day. The night of 03 Sep witnessed one more blast onboard Motor Tanker and ICGS Shaurya continued her effort to keep the fire under control.Meanwhile, a joint effort by MRCC of ICG and Sri Lanka Navy had ensured rescue of 22 of the 23 crew by

 alerting nearest ships in vicinity. The timely and daring firefighting efforts by ICGS Shaurya was the game changer and ensured that the fire remain contained within the bridge and accommodation area. If not, the fire would have spread to the cargo hold carrying huge volume of crude, resulting in explosions and consequent catastrophic environmental disaster.


 

 

While the collective fire-fighting was underway, the adriftdistressed vessel was moving towards Sri Lanka coast due to the prevailing seasonal currents in area, posing an immediatethreat of grounding and resultant oil spill once near depths of 20 mtrs. Indian Coast Guard boarding team, in a high risk operation braving the rough seas and adverse conditions, embarked the under fire unmanned tanker and successfully connected the tow to Sri Lankan  Tug TTT-1 to pull it away from land and position favourablyinto the wind to prevent spread of fire to the forward section of the ship. This move was crucial turning point of the operation that ensured saving cargo of the oil tanker as also averting major oil spill in the region.     

With intense and persistent firefighting attackfor three days by ICG Ships along with Sri Lankan ships and tugs, coming within 50 mtrs of a potentially huge explosive seat,the fire got dousedby AM 06 Sep 20.ICG ships however continued to monitor the situation, in case of re-eruption due to prevalent temperature and undertook surface-boundary cooling to reduce itaround the cargo holds.

As estimation of a likelihood of reoccurrence, a huge explosion again occurred on the starboard diesel oil tank on PM 06 Sep 20 and by midnight, huge flames  reaching up to 60 mtrs height from the deck were seen at the rear part of the ship. All units scaled up from boundary cooling to firefighting and as a result of yet again sustained and close quarter efforts by 04 ICG Ships and 02 Sri Lankan and 03 salvour tugs, the fire was completely doused again by PM 08 Sep 20. Notwithstanding, continuous boundary cooling with sea water wasmaintainedto reduce temperature of the ship’s structure.

 

As a result of two major explosions of fuel oil tanks, the deck and hull on port and starboard side got ruptured. This led to escape of oil water emulsion from engine room to sea and formation of minor oil sheen.On 09 Sep 2020,ICG Dornier aircraft which was preemptivelypositioned at Sri Lankan air base (Mattala)was launchedin Pollution Response configuration for spray of Oil Spill Dispersant (OSD) to neutralise the sheen. Simultaneously, ICG shipsin area also sprayed OSD and churned the waters for kinetic action andto accelerate the disintegration of the oil sheen. Under no circumstances, the major cargo tanks were breached nor the Kuwait exportcrude escaped to sea. A major mile stone was achieved by preventing the oil spill during the entire operation. Had there been an oil spill of such magnitude, the fisheries and livelihood of fishermen of the entire Region would have been severely impacted.

The collective surface firefighting efforts was supplemented by aerial dropping of Dry Chemical Powder (DCP), a fire-fighting substance,by Sri Lankan Airforce. Further, Sri Lankan Naval authorities sought ICG support for Five Tons DCP for firefighting which was sourced from M/s IOC, Chennai and airlifted to Trincomalee.

A major ecological disaster was averted in India’s backyard by joint efforts of Indian Coast Guard, Sri Lankan Armed Forces and tugs deployed by Sri Lankan Naval authorities and DG (Shipping). The incident response also highlighted close co-operation and inter-operability with forces of our immediate neighbours inall together a new dimension, invoking the established MoU between the two Nations. This operation has brought to fore the lead role played by India and the capability of ICG to respond to an emerging situation to protect the maritime environment in living upto its motto of “VayamRakshamah” – “We Protect”.