Rotted with corrosion and immobilized at sea by a long-running legal dispute, a cargo vessel has sunk in the Indian Ocean, releasing an oil slick about six miles long.
Crew members had left the Cyprus-flagged MV Thermopylae Sierra long before it sank Thursday (Aug. 23) about 5 km (3.1 miles) off the west coast of Sri Lanka, causing the slick about 20 km (12 miles) offshore.
|Stuck in a legal dispute, the ship had been moored five kilometers offshore for three years. Engineers charged with overseeing maintenance abandoned ship, saying they had been deprived of food.|
By Friday (Aug. 24), the oil was already washing ashore at resort towns around the capital of Colombo, authorities said.
A thin strip of oil about 200m (655 feet) long had already reached the shoreline of the resort town of Negombo, the BBC’s Charles Haviland in Colombo reported.
Sri Lankan authorities ordered the ship detained in 2009 in a dispute between the Greek owner, Thesarco Shipping, and the crew over the vessel’s cargo of steel piping. Details of that dispute were not immediately available Friday, but news reports said the case was still pending in the country’s courts.
The crew left the 15,612-ton ship during the dispute, to be replaced by engineers who were supposed to oversee basic maintenance. But the engineers also eventually abandoned the ship, saying they had not been given food or basic facilities.
Neglected in the ocean, the 155-meter long, 127-meter wide vessel inevitably began to corrode and take on water, reports said.
The Director General of Commercial Shipping of the Ministry of Ports said that the Master Divers Company had been draining water from the decks to prevent the ship from sinking. The ship, built in 1985, was to be moved to Trincomalee as soon as it was stabilized in the water.
A recent court order, however, prevented the ship from being towed, reports said.
75 Tons of Oil
The engineers had warned that some of the pipe cargo remained on the ship and could harm marine life if the ship sank. The ship’s fuel was another concern.
|Some of the six-mile-long oil slick has already washed ashore near the tourist resort of Negombo.|
“There was some 350 tons of oil on the ship, but most of it was removed, and now there is less than 75 tons on board,” Jagath Gunasekera, of the Marine Environment Protection Authority, told China’s Xinhua news agency.
Gunasekera said authorities had a “contingency plan” underway to address “whatever environmental impact even that little oil may cause once it begins to surface.”
Sri Lanka’s Disaster Management Center said a long stretch of the west coast centered on the capital was at risk. The entire slick but could wash ashore if the heavy monsoon weather intensifies, the center’s director, Sarath Kumara, told the AFP news agency.
“We have arranged small units of volunteers to clean up a coastal stretch of over 50 km,” Kumara said. “We have not experienced anything like this before.”