DOUSING A MEGA SHIP FIRE
By Ravi Ladduwahetty
Sri Lanka Navy spokesman Lieutenant Commander Chaminda Walakuluge talks to Ceylon Today Sunday Edition on how the fire aboard the container vessel MV Daniela which broke out on Tuesday morning, was jointly doused by the Navy, the Ports Authority and the Indian Coast Guard vessel
It was on Tuesday (4), the Maritime Rescue Coordinating Centre (MRCC) Colombo, had received a fire distress call from the local agent of 'MSC Daniela' as the vessel was 120 nautical miles off the Port of Colombo.
(MSC is the acronym for Mediterranean Shipping Company of Switzerland which is one of the largest shipping companies in the world and the local agents are MSC Lanka Ltd, a McLarens Maritime Group subsidiary)
The Panama flagged container ship was sailing from Singapore to Egypt and the fire broke out in the vessel while outside the Colombo Port. Colombo was not meant to be a port of call for the ill-fated vessel, but Colombo, soon was to be a matter of necessity and not a matter of choice.
Upon receiving a fire distress call from a container vessel, 'MSC Daniela' on Tuesday the Sri Lanka Navy dispatched two Fast Attack Craft (FACs) on scene to escort the vessel which was sailing 120 nautical miles off Colombo.
The two Sri Lanka Navy Dvora Fast Attack Crafts managed to escort the vessel up to 33 nautical miles off the Colombo Lighthouse by Tuesday evening and the distance was further cut short by escorting it to 10 Nm off Colombo by Wednesday morning. Two tugs of the Sri Lanka Ports Authority, Ravana and Maha Wewa also joined fire fighting efforts but the initial efforts went in vein due to the intensity of flames.
The Sri Lanka Navy requested assistance from the Indian High Commission, as there was a Coast Guard vessel (ICGS 'Shoor') that was on a goodwill visit, was berthed at the Colombo harbour. Fortunately for the good of the ill-fated containership, this was a lucky escapade.
The Indian High Commission promptly responded to the request made by the Sri Lanka Navy, dispatching ICGS 'Shoor' to assist in extinguishing fire on-board the distressed vessel.
The Indian Coast Guard ship 'Shoor', continued its fire fighting efforts, assisting the Sri Lanka Navy for the third successive day in the eventuality of the fire spreading.
The fire fighting mission was also joined by SLNS 'Sagara' patrolling in the Southern Seas. Both 'Shoor' and 'Sagara' are equipped with fire fighting equipment and have specialized fire fighting personnel on-board.
In addition, the Indian Navy had also directed two of their ships INS 'Darshak' and INS 'Garriel' to the location.
Meanwhile, thick white smoke could be seen rising through a few containers as the combined fire fighting efforts continue during the time of reporting. Sri Lanka Air Force "Bell 212" helicopter was also engaged in the dousing operations since Thursday.
In addition, the Indian Navy had also directed two of their ships INS 'Darshak' and INS 'Garriel' to the location. In the similar vein, three more SLN FACs were dispatched on scene for the evacuation of 21 crew members in a situation of the fire spreading, endangering the safety and life of the crew.
Meanwhile, Sri Lanka Air Force also joined hands, providing a 'Bell 212' helicopter augmenting the combined fire fighting efforts.
The Indian Coast Guard further extended its assistance providing the 'Chetak' helicopter to the distress response efforts.
The dousing operations were still underway with the unprecedented assistance of the Indian Coast Guard, Indian Navy, Sri Lanka Air Force and Sri Lanka Ports Authority personnel.
The endeavour also clearly demonstrates the maritime cooperation between Sri Lanka and India in dealing with rescue missions in the maritime domain.
The Sri Lanka Navy extends its gratitude for the Indian High Commission for their prompt response and especially the crew on-board ICGS 'Shoor' who are extremely diligent in this challenging situation.
The latest update as of late Friday night was that MV Daniela was brought 4 Nautical Miles away from the Colombo Port to 14 NM from the original 10 NM for the fear that a possible oil spill could impact the environment. Also for the fear that it would impact the severe shipping traffic that sails to the Colombo Port.
There has been no known impact of the fire to the immediate environs, although a state agency such as the Marine Pollution Prevention Authority has neither confirmed nor denied it.
However, the bottomline is that the 21 crew members are still aboard the ship and on the Firecastle Point ( the front of the ship). And it is still not known when the ship would be moved out of Colombo or the contents thereof.
But it is indeed fulfilling that there was a massive joint cooperation between Sri Lanka and India in bringing under control what could have ended as a massive catastrophe.
WAITING FOR SHIP TO COOL – LOCAL AGENTS
Meanwhile, Shermal Perera, Director of MSC Lanka, the local agents for the Geneva-based Mediterranean Shipping Company told Ceylon Today that the company was waiting for the fire to cool off without which the next follow up action could not be proceeded with.
MSC Lanka Ltd is also a subsidiary company of the giant McLarens Maritime Group. Perera, who is also the only accredited spokesman from Geneva for local subsidiary, said there were a large number of containers which were damaged but had to wait till the ship cooled after which the Principals in Geneva, the assessors and the insurance personnel could visit the ship.
He was confident that the ship will cool off in the next three days.
He also said the damages and the contents of the container could not be assessed till the ill-fated vessel was berthed. He also said a special team was on-board for further damage control of the ill-fated vessel and to control the smoke.
Even the cause of the fire has not been determined yet, he said.
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