A tanker vessel carrying 2 million barrels of oil has caught fire off Sri Lanka’s east coast, prompting a massive rescue operation amid fears of an ecological disaster.

The blaze started in the engine room of the ‘New Diamond’ tanker, chartered by Indian Oil Corp (IOC), early on Thursday, and spread to the bridge of the ship. It hasn’t yet reached the cargo area and there’s no oil leak, according to the Sri Lankan military.

A Filipino sailor was missing after the incident and is presumed dead. “He was badly injured when a boiler exploded,” Navy spokesman Captain Indika de Silva said.

The rest of the crew, consisting of five Greek and 18 Philippine nationals, have been evacuated from the burning vessel. One of them was wounded and taken to Colombo for treatment.

Navy serves emergency relief to Panama-flagged MT New Diamond caught fire about 38 nautical miles off Sangamankanda Point, east of Sri Lanka on 03rd September 2020. The disaster relief ops are underway with the assistance of local and foreign stakeholders.

Ships from the Russian Navy and the Indian Coast Guard have been assisting Sri Lanka to extinguish the fire.

Without the crew, the tanker drifted 25 km (16.5 miles) off the coast near the town of Thirukovil and the popular surfing spot of Arugam Bay. It’s now being towed away from land in an eastward direction as the battle against the blaze continues.

The head of Sri Lanka’s Marine Environment Protection Authority warned that an oil spill from the tanker would be “a huge environmental and economic disaster,” delivering a heavy blow to marine life.

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