A Panamanian-registered oil tanker burned out of control for a second day off Sri Lanka on Friday as authorities confirmed a Filipino crew member was killed in an explosion and fears grew of a major new oil spill in the Indian Ocean.
Sri Lankan navy and Indian coast guard vessels fired water cannons at the blaze on the New Diamond, which issued a distress call Thursday after its engine room exploded.
A Sri Lankan helicopter was dropping water from the air on the blaze at the rear of the vessel.
The fire had not spread to the 270,000 tons of crude and 1,700 tons of diesel the tanker is carrying, Sri Lanka’s navy said.
“Preliminary information from the ship’s crew confirmed that a Filipino seaman on board had died in a boiler explosion,” the navy said in a statement.
All but one of the 23-member crew—18 Filipinos and five Greek nationals—were rescued on Thursday.
The ship’s third officer, also a Filipino, had suffered burn injuries and was taken to the Kalmunai hospital, 360 kilometers east of the capital Colombo. His condition was stable, the navy spokesman said.
Meanwhile, in Japan, authorities racing to find dozens of missing sailors from a cargo ship that sank in a typhoon found a second survivor on Friday, as another, much more powerful storm drew near.
The Gulf Livestock 1, which was carrying 6,000 cows, issued a distress call early Wednesday as Typhoon Maysak passed through the area, setting off a desperate search for the 43 crew on board.
A first survivor was found on Wednesday evening, with the body of a second crew member recovered at sea early Friday, as hopes began to fade for the operation and powerful Typhoon Haishen barreled towards the area.
But the coast guard said they found a second survivor on Friday afternoon, a 30-year-old Filipino who was spotted in a life raft several kilometers from Kodakarajima, a remote island in southwestern Japan.
The man, identified as a deckhand, was reached by a patrol boat and was alone in the raft. He was able to walk unassisted, the coastguard said.
The first survivor from the ship, a 45-year-old Filipino chief officer, told rescuers he had put on a life jacket and jumped into the sea after a warning announcement on board.
He said one of the boat’s engines had stalled and the vessel was overturned by a powerful wave before eventually sinking.
Precisely when and where it sank remained unclear.
Dramatic footage of Wednesday’s rescue showed the man bobbing in the open ocean in an orange lift jacket and rescuers battling violent waves to pull him on to their boat with a rope.
After he was moved to a larger boat and wrapped with blankets, he asked for water and thanked his rescuers.
“I am the only one? No other one?” he asked.
The ship is believed to have been caught up in Typhoon Maysak, which moved through the area with gusts of up to 160 kilometers per hour.
But Haishen is a much stronger storm, and is expected to affect Japan from late Saturday, with winds of up to 290 kilometers per hour, making it a “violent” storm—the top level on Japan’s classification scale.
There has been little sign so far of other survivors, with the coast guard spotting an empty rubber dinghy and a life jacket during their search.
Dead cows from the boat have also been seen in the waves.
In Manila, relatives of the crew were waiting desperately for news.
Captain Dante Addug’s sister told the Agence France-Presse that he had been in touch with his girlfriend shortly before the boat sank.
“He told her there was an engine failure but they were able to restart it after an hour,” Fredelyne Sanchez said.
“But then the big waves worsened and water started coming in.”
Four coastguard vessels, a defense ministry plane and specially trained divers are involved in the search.
But it is unclear how much longer their efforts can continue, with Haishen heading towards the area.
The storm was expected to begin affecting areas including Okinawa in southern Japan and parts of western Kyushu from Saturday night to Monday, and the government warned residents to prepare.
“In the region that the typhoon is approaching, record rains, storms, high waves and high tides are feared,” government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said Friday.
In preparation, water was being emptied from behind dams to make room for heavy rainfall and a quick response system to warn residents was being activated, he added.
The Gulf Livestock 1 crew was made up of 39 Filipinos, two New Zealanders and two Australians. The boat was traveling from Napier in New Zealand to the Chinese port of Tangshan.
In the Indian Ocean, India has sent warships and coastguard vessels to help with the rescue, while Sri Lanka’s air force deployed a helicopter to douse the flames.
The tanker was about 60 kilometers from Sri Lanka’s east coast when it sounded the alert and during the night drifted 10 kilometers closer.
Sri Lanka’s navy said it believed there was no immediate danger to the coastline but remained concerned about the possibility of oil leaking.
The New Diamond is classified as a very large crude carrier (VLCC), and is about 330 meters long.
The stricken vessel is a third larger than the Japanese bulk carrier MV Wakashio, which crashed into a reef in Mauritius last month leaking over 1,000 tons of oil into the island nation’s picturesque waters.
The New Diamond had been taking the crude from Kuwait to the Indian port of Paradip.
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