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Sri Lanka names captain of oil tanker a suspect in fire

SRI LANKA. A September 8, 2020 file photo released by Sri Lankan Air Force shows ships fighting fire on the MT New Diamond, about 30 nautical miles off the coast of Sri Lanka. (AP)

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka -- A Sri Lankan magistrate on Thursday ordered the captain of an oil tanker that caught fire off the country's coast to appear in court as authorities seek $1.8 million from the ship’s owner for assistance provided in fighting the blazes.

On Wednesday, Attorney General Dappula de Livera directed police to name the Greek captain of the MT New Diamond as a suspect in the fire and produce him before the Magistrate’s Court. He was ordered to appear on September 28.

The Attorney General’s Office said the country is seeking $1.8 million from the ship’s owner for the help given to the vessel since September 3, when the first fire broke out.

It includes services provided by the Sri Lankan navy, air force, ports authority and Marine Environment Protection Authority, said Nishara Jayaratne, the coordinating officer in the Attorney General's department.

She said the claim has been submitted to the ship's owner and a separate claim will be presented for damage caused to the environment after studies are complete.

Greece-based Porto Emporios Shipping Inc. is the registered owner of the 20-year-old vessel.

The ship, which was carrying nearly two million barrels of crude oil, was damaged off Sri Lanka’s east coast by two fires over a week.

Sri Lankan and Indian ships and aircraft took part in extinguishing the fires. The second blaze was doused last week. Since then, experts have been working to salvage the ship, which remains in Sri Lankan waters.

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.

The initial fire killed one Filipino crew member and injured another, while 21 other crew members escaped uninjured. The 21, including the captain, are currently staying in a coronavirus isolation center for seafarers. (AP)


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