Singapore — The fully laden Indian Oil Corp., or IOC, chartered super tanker is leaking oil, likely from its fuel tanks but the 260,000 mt crude cargo is still safe, several sources involved in salvage operations said Sept. 10.
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"There are at least two fuel oil patches so far and they are suspected to be coming out from the ruptured fuel tanks," one source told S&P Global Platts over phone.
The patches stretch upto two nautical miles, the source said.
He said the fire that reignited earlier in the week has been fully doused, the crude cargo is intact but the engine room and some onboard structures are 80% full with water.
The New Diamond VLCC, controlled by New Shipping was carrying Kuwaiti crude for IOC on the Mina al Ahmadi-Paradip route.
The ship had caught fire on Sept. 3, and was doused with tremendous difficulty only 79 hours later, after relentless efforts of Indian and Sri Lankan navies and coast guards which pressed multiple ships and aircraft into service. If the cargo catches fire, it can result into a major ecological disaster but the Sri Lankan naval authorities said so far it is safe.
The VLCC is now 80 km away from Sri Lanka's coast and there have been no flames and smoke visible for the last 24 hours, an Indian Navy spokersperson said.
The salvage team has already boarded and inspected the ship, which is at present stable, the spokersperson said. The ship will now be prepared for towing.
The VLCC is still in a very dangerous situation because the steel has been weakened by heat and the engine room is full of water, said a source with direct knowledge of the matter.
If cracks develop in the hull of the VLCC, the salvaging outlook will turn worse, the source said.
The current objective is to tow the tanker to the nearest Indian port and then try transferring oil to other smaller ships. Since pumps in the VLCC are not working, submersible pumps and inert gas generator will have to be used as part of the salvage operations.
VERY OLD SHIPS
There is a crack of about 2 m at the rear of the 20 year old VLCC's port side, 10 m above the waterline, sources said. They said the tragedy has once again brought to fore the maritime debate over chartering very old ships after providing them regulatory approvals for sailing.
Globally, 15 years for super tankers is a critical threshold after which getting regulatory approvals for such ones is difficult due to stringent international laws of the seas.
Many oil companies across the globe do not charter tankers that are more than 15 years old due to safety concerns and at times they are unable to clear vetting at load and discharge ports. However, several refiners do not hesitate to take such ships if they are able to get port clearances, as they are available at a discount over the prevailing freight.
Both cargo prices and freight are subdued at present due to demand destruction caused by the coronavirus pandemic, significantly reducing the freight discount these old tankers enjoy over approved ships.
IOC and New Shipping executives could not be immediately reached for comment.