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Sri Lanka tows supertanker ablaze off coast, one crewman presumed dead

COLOMBO (Reuters) – Sri Lanka began towing a fully loaded supertanker on fire off its east coast after it began drifting towards land, a spokesman for the navy of the Indian Ocean nation said on Friday.

The fire was still raging on the New Diamond tanker carrying about 2 million barrels of oil, said the spokesman, Captain Indika de Silva. There were 23 crew on board, one of whom is presumed dead, while the rest have been rescued from the ship.

There were no signs of an oil leak from the vessel, he added. Ships from the Russian navy and Indian coastguard have been assisting in the firefighting.

The fire that broke out in the engine room on Thursday morning had spread to the bridge of the ship, chartered by Indian Oil Corp (IOC) (IOC.NS).

Graphic – Ablaze & adrift: Sri Lanka began towing the supertanker New Diamond to safety after it drifted towards land: here

Initially, the ship was stranded 38 km (24 miles) east of the Sri Lankan town of Thirukovil, but drifted within 25 km of the coast after being abandoned. Authorities were now towing it eastward, away from the coast, de Silva said.

Thirukovil is a town in Sri Lanka’s Ampara district that was badly battered by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Arugam Bay, a world-renowned surfing spot, is nearby.

“The missing Filipino sailor is presumed dead. He was badly injured when a boiler exploded,” de Silva told Reuters, citing crew who were rescued.

“There were 5 Greek and 18 Philippine nationals among the crew. One of them was injured and he was airlifted out of the ship and the rest were accounted for.”

The ship had sailed from the port of Mina Al Ahmadi in Kuwait, loaded with Kuwait Export Crude, Refinitiv Eikon tracking data showed. It was heading for the Indian port of Paradip, where state-run IOC has a 300,000 barrel-per-day refinery.

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