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New Diamond Fire – How it all unfolded

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by Captain Chandra
Godakanda Arachchi
Member of Company of Master Mariners of Sri Lanka,
Gladstone LNG

The New Diamond––a 330-metre-long tanker ship built in Japan in 2000 with a cargo carrying capacity of nearly 300000 metric tonnes––loaded crude oil from Kuwait on 23rd September and was sailing to Paradip in India. It was due to reach the destination on 05th September. It was carrying 270,000 tonnes of crude oil (approximately 2.1 million barrels or 13.2 million litres).

The ship ran into trouble when the boiler exploded, according to media reports, around 7. 45 in the morning on 03 September. The ship was about 38 nautical miles off Sangama Kanda, when the incident occurred. The Hambantota Port Management was informed by the Navy around 8. 30 am that tugs were needed for the ship casualty emergency response. The Hambantota Port got into action immediately and arranged for the required crew, bunkers and provisions, etc. Two tugs, namely Ravana and Vasabha, left Hambantota at 2.50 pm and 4.45 pm respectively sailing towards the casualty ship. Ravana is a Fire fighting Class 1 tug, which was dispatched with minimal delay due to the urgency. Both tugs arrived at the casualty area around midnight and commenced operations (water jets) upon arrival on instructions of On Scene Commander.

Ravana and Vasabha were the first response tugs to arrive at the scene except the salvage tug nominated by the Salvors, which had arrived a little earlier and the Indian coastguard vessel. The Air Force MI-17 helicopters too began dumping water on to engine room area. There was one Indian coastguard ship which was the first on the scene, other than SL Navy vessels and three Indian Navy vessels joined in later. Two Russian Navy ships which coincidentally had departed Hambantota Port after a call also agreed to support in the initial mission but had left due to service exigencies. The Air Force helicopter as well as a surveillance aircraft were searching the area for any survivors in the water.

It appears that there was a second explosion in the afternoon on 03 Sept., when the service fuel oil tank in the engine room may have caught fire. Fire fighting operations continued until the following morning, when the fire was somewhat brought under control thanks to the combined effort of all those involved in fighting it. All crew members had been rescued except one unfortunate one who was in the engine room at the time of the initial explosion; he lost his life. Nineteen crew members were rescued by merchant ship Helen M, two by Sri Lanka Navy ship Sayura and one by Navy ship, Ranarisi.

It is believed that an Internationally reputed salvage tug company has signed necessary paperwork (Lloyd’s Open Form) with the tanker owners for the towage/salvage.

It was a well-coordinated successful effort by all parties involved from merchant ship Helen M, SL Navy, first response tugs from Hambantota International Port Group, SLPA, Air Force, Indian Coastguard, Indian Navy and Air Force and also the Russian Navy.

There will be a thorough investigation to ascertain what actually triggered the initial explosion, which consequently started the fire in the engine room. It appears that there was an interval between the two explosions.

Boilers usually use waste energy from engine exhaust gas to heat up the water at sea while in port fuel is used to run the boilers due to non-availability of much exhaust gas in port. Therefore, in case of a boiler explosion, a flash back explosion from boiler burners is unlikely, but there is the possibility of a boiler drum explosion. In this scenario, the boiler explosion could have released a huge quantity of steam after the explosion. As the water expands by 1,700 times to create steam, there could have been sufficient steam to displace air from the engine room thus temporary creating an inert atmosphere not supporting fire. However, as the time passes air tend to creep into the engine room again and when it was mixed with fuel vapour (from damaged fuel service tank) there may have been an explosive mixture. It is likely that the second explosion was due to aforesaid scenario.

There could be as much as 300 tonnes of marine diesel stored in the setting tank, the service tank and in the adjacent the diesel storage tanks on either side of engine room. It is quite possible that what was burning was aforesaid diesel. Upon burning all diesel in the engine room the fire was dying, but it was necessary to cool the adjacent steelwork and deck. etc., to prevent steel becoming brittle and failing until the fire was put off. It was interesting to note that as the ship is 20 years old, steel used back then could be different from what is used today. Therefore cooling had to go on continuously.

There were two options available––towing the ship to the destination port in India or lightering. It is almost certain cargo pumps were not being able to use as the engine room was burnt off (no steam or power). The inert gas plant––inert gas prevent forming an explosive mixture in cargo tanks––was out of action. It is learnt from the electronic media that MEPA was opposing lightering of crude oil to another tanker. There are ways to do lightering safely. As salvage and towage had been granted to an internationally reputed towing and salvage company (experts in this business), MEPA instead of opposing lightering should have together with the experts in towage and salvage company. If the ship had been towed too much seaward away from the island, effect of South West Monsoon swell might have caused more hull stresses and the steel work would have cracked and there would have been a disaster. As such working together with salvage and towage company is extremely important.

Sri Lanka has been very fortunate in this instance as the incident occurred off the East coast, where it is somewhat sheltered from South West Monsoon. Obviously, arriving from Kuwait and sailing to the East Coast of India, vessel surely would have passed West and South of Sri Lanka. It is hard to imagine the consequences in terms of pollution had the incident occurred while the ship was sailing in West of Sri Lanka. Prevailing South West Monsoon would have made the ship drift towards our coast at a faster rate and get grounded somewhere in our West coast polluting the entire coastline.

Marine Environment Protection Authority ( MEPA) should draw up an Oil Pollution National Response plan without delay, conduct drills regularly to keep all those who are to be engaged in pollution prevention fully trained at all times. The MEPA in consultation with International Maritime Organisation and Intertanko (Independent association of tanker owners) should set up stations around the country with gear to deal with marine pollution in Colombo, Galle, Hambantota and Trincomalee harbours; they should include marine spill equipment to contain such as booms as skimmers to collect, water craft needed, and shore clean up gear equipment. Such gear should be capable of quick deployment. These stations will generate employment as well for the locals. This is imperative as more than 300 ships pass South of Sri Lanka daily and many of them are tankers carrying various types of oils and chemicals.

 

(The Writer has nearly 25 years of operational experience in the Oil & Gas industry.)



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Features

Credibility in governance through elections and not security forces

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Ranil Wickremesinghe

By Jehan Perera

President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s warning that he is prepared to declare a state of national emergency and use the military to suppress any public protests for change of government would reflect the pressures he is under. The manner in which he has used the security forces to deal with the protest movement has been unexpected. His words and deeds are contradictory to what he has previously stood for as a five-time former prime minister. This is especially true in the case of the ethnic and religious minorities who have consistently voted for him and his party at elections. They have felt safer and more secure under his governments which always sought to reduce the heavy hand of state oppression in which national security is given pride of place. He has always promised them much though he has been unable to deliver on much of what he promised.

Notwithstanding the unfortunate rhetoric and actions of the present time the belief still persists that President Wickremesinghe is the best of the available options. Recent pronouncements of the president have reignited hope that he will address the problems of the religious and ethnic minorities. He has stated that he does not want to leave this problem to the next generation. He has said that he wants to resolve this intractable national problem by the country’s 75th independence anniversary on February 4 next year. The hope that the president will make a fresh effort to resolve their problems has led the main Tamil party, the TNA, to desist from voting against the budget which passed with a relatively small majority. Their spokesperson, M A Sumanthiran said in Parliament that due to the president reaching out to them, stretching out his hand, they did not vote against the budget although they disagreed with it.

It is not only in words that the president has reached out to the ethnic and religious minorities. Reports from the north and east indicate that the Maveer (Heroes) Day commemorations this year took place without incident. During the past two years scores of people were arrested and a massive presence of security forces blocked the people from participating in public events. On this occasion the security forces did not get involved in any attempt to stop the commemorations. University students distributed sweets and even cut a birthday cake to celebrate slain LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran’s birthday. The analogy that the president drew to himself being seen as a Hitler who exterminated ethnic and religious minorities is misplaced. The release of those held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act for engaging in similar acts in the past would further contribute to the reconciliation process.

WORSENING CRISIS

In this context, the president’s use of militaristic rhetoric can only be understood in relation to the growing economic crisis that shows no sign of abating. The anticipated IMF bailout package is at risk of getting indefinitely delayed. It was initially anticipated to come in September then in November but now January is being targeted. Japan’s top brokerage and investment bank, Nomura Holdings Inc, has warned that seven countries – Egypt, Romania, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Czech Republic, Pakistan and Hungary – are now at a high risk of currency crises. Sri Lanka is in third place on the table of risk. The next devaluation of the rupee could see another spike in inflation that will make the cost of living even more unbearable to the masses of people.

The president is on record as having said that the economic crisis will get worse before it improves. Both anecdotal and statistical evidence indicates that it is indeed worsening. University teachers at the University of Sabaragamuwa reported that attendance in their classes was down by at least a quarter. Students who come from other parts of the country are unable to afford the cost of meals and so they stay at home. A study by the Institute of Policy Studies has shown that about four percent of primary, 20 percent of secondary and 26 percent of collegiate students had dropped out of school in the estate sector, which is the worst affected. The future costs to the country of a less well educated population is incalculable and inhumane.

As it is the situation is a dire one for large swathes of the population. Research from the University of Peradeniya has revealed that close to half of Sri Lanka’s population, 42 percent (up from 14 percent in 2019) are living under the poverty line. Professor of Economics Wasantha Athukorala has said there is a dramatic increase in the poverty level of over three-hold across the past three years. In 2019, nearly 3 million people lived below the poverty line, but that number has increased to 9.6 million in October 2022. In these adverse circumstances stability in a polity can be ensured either through legitimacy or through force. It would be tragic if the latter is the choice that is made.

ELECTORAL SOLUTION

President Wickremesinghe has been stressing the importance of political stability to achieve economic development. His recent statement that the security forces will be used to negate any unauthorised protest is a sign that the government expects the conditions of economic hardship to escalate. The general public who are experiencing extreme economic hardship are appalled at the manner in which those who committed acts of corruption and violence in the past are being overlooked because they belong to the ruling party and its cliques. The IMF has made anti-corruption a prerequisite to qualify for a bailout, calling for “Reducing corruption vulnerabilities through improving fiscal transparency and public financial management, introducing a stronger anti-corruption legal framework, and conducting an in-depth governance diagnostic, supported by IMF technical assistance.”

It is morally unacceptable even if politically pragmatic that the president is failing to take action against the wrongdoers because he needs their votes in parliament. As a start, the president needs to appoint a credible and independent national procurement committee to ensure that major economic contracts are undertaken without corruption. Second, the president needs to bite the bullet on elections. The country’s burning issues would be better accepted by the country and world at large if they are being dealt with by a statesman than by a dictator. Government that is based on the people’s consent constitutes the sum and substance of democracy. This consent is manifested through free and fair elections that are regularly held. Local government elections have been postponed for a year and are reaching their legal maximum in terms of postponement. These elections need to be held before March next year.

Elections will enable the people to express their views in a democratic manner to elect their representatives for the present. This would provide the government with guidance in terms of the decisions it is being called to take to revive the economy and place the burden in a manner that will be acceptable to the people. The provincial council elections have been postponed since 2018. Democratically elected provincial councils share in the burdens of governance. The devolution of power that took place under the 13th Amendment was meant to promote ethnic harmony in the country. The president who has taken the position that he is for a solution to the ethnic conflict should seriously consider conducting the provincial council elections together with the local government elections se their financial costs. By doing so he will also gain legitimacy as a democratic statesman and not a dictator.

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WEDNESDAY – Movie Review

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The Addams Family is back with a new tale to tell! Originally created by Charles Addams as a comic strip published in The New Yorker, it offered readers a sarcastic take on the ‘typical nuclear family’ by substituting it with a more macabre bunch of strange and eerie individuals. Since then the titular family has been adapted on to the big screen many times, from live action movies to animated versions, the Addams Family has gained many fans throughout the years. Created by Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, with Tim Burton working on four episodes of the eight-part series, Wednesday is a welcoming tale for young fans, but unfortunately fails to think outside the box and remains anchored to the floor with a messy storyline.

Dead-eyed Wednesday Addams (Jenna Ortega) is a stubborn, independent and intelligent teenager in this new series. Her penchant for attracting trouble wherever she goes alarms her parents, Morticia (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and Gomez (Luis Guzmán). With an already strained relationship with her parents (specifically her mother), Wednesday is enrolled at Nevermore, an academy for outcasts like herself. Having attended the academy themselves, Morticia and Gomez are hopeful that their daughter will ‘fit right in’. Caught between trying to build her own identity and other teenage complexities, Wednesday soon finds herself in the middle of a twisted mystery.

This is the first time audiences are introduced to a teenage Wednesday, which allowed the creators to build a new world on their own terms, but while keeping true to the original nature of the character. The creators do a fair amount of world building by introducing other outcasts like the Fangs (vampires), Stoners (Gorgons), Scales (sirens) and Furs (werewolves), among others. Nevermore Academy itself is beautiful and comes with the classic package of creepy crypts, hidden rooms and secret societies. The series also offers a decent amount of gore, although they could have added more given Wednesday’s proclivity for gore-related activities. The series deals with classic young-adult tropes which includes teenage crushes, bullies, relationships and even prom, among other things. The series navigates through Wednesday’s journey of self-discovery, which is a new avenue for both the character and the fans. From understanding and displaying her emotions to discovering her identity and understanding her peers, the series takes a deep dive into heavy material.

Ortega’s performance as the titular character plays a major role in keeping audiences glued to the screen. This is also the first time viewers are shown a teenage Wednesday Addams, which works to Ortega’s benefit as she depicts more dimensions to the ghoulish, morose character many are associated with based on previous renditions. Her facial expressions and ability to deliver on seriously emotional moments strengthens her role as the lead. The rest of the Addams Family, even with limited screen time, lack the eccentricities their characters should have. Hopeless romantics Morticia and Gomez seem incompatible in this version and Uncle Fester is far less crazy than he ought to be. The only member worth mentioning is the Thing—a severed hand— who brought more character and spirit to the series acting alongside Ortega. With barely any room to develop a majority of the characters are prosaic and tedious, even though they remain vital to the plot.

Apart from Ortega, Gwendoline Christie and Emma Myers deserve honorable mentions for their roles as Nevermore’s head teacher, Larissa Weems and the peppy Enid Sinclair respectively. Enid quickly became a fan favorite as the character was the polar opposite to Wednesday. Her character is vital to Wednesday’s character development and their journey to find common ground as mismatched individuals is amusing.

Christina Ricci who played Wednesday in the 90s returns as ‘normie’ teacher, Miss Thornhill and unfortunately barely stands out and this in large part due to the messy storyline. The series is bogged down with numerous subplots and overlapping tropes and the characters with potential for growth are completely overlooked. With love triangles, bullies and killer monsters on the loose, the series self-destructs and the climax sinks into disappointment.

At the end of the day, Wednesday plays to the beat of the new generation and touches on new themes, which is welcoming seeing as the character should grow up at some point. While not everyone may relate to Wednesday’s teenage perils, it is interesting to witness her growth and her journey as an ‘outcast’ or ‘weirdo’. And while Wednesday doesn’t exactly offer a distinctly unique story, it gives audiences a small taste of what Jenna Ortega’s Wednesday is capable of. Creating a story around a well-established franchise is a difficult task, and in this case the creators fail to add value to their visions. If the series continues, the creators will have the opportunity to think further outside the box and push the limits to Wednesday’s character and give audiences a bone-chilling experience. Wednesday is currently streaming on Netflix.

 

 

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Features

Stage set for… AWESOME FRIDAY

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The past few weeks have been a very busy period for the new-look Mirage outfit…preparing themselves for their big night – Friday, December 2nd – when they would perform, on stage, for the very first time, as Donald Pieries (leader/vocals/drums), Benjy (bass), Niro Wattaladeniya (guitar), Viraj Cooray (guitar/vocals), Asangi Wickramasinghe (keyboard/vocals), along with their two frontline female vocalist, Sharon (Lulu) and Christine.

They have thoroughly immersed themselves in their practice sessions as they are very keen to surprise their fans, music lovers, and well-wishers, on opening night…at the Peacock, Berjaya Hotel, in Mount Lavinia.

Action starts at 8.00 pm and, thereafter, it will be five hours of great music, along with EFFEX DJs Widhara and Damien, interspersed with fun and excitement…for the whole family!

Yes, opening night is for the whole family, so you don’t need to keep some of your family members at home – kids, especially.

Working on their repertoire for Friday, bassist Benjy says “what we will dish out will be extra special, with lots of action on stage.”

It would be interesting to see Sharon (Lulu) doing her thing with Mirage, after her early days with the Gypsies, and, I’m told, a dynamic performance from Sharon is what is in store for all those who make it to the Peacock this Friday

Edward (Eddy) Joseph (centre) with Donald and Benjy

While the band was at one of their practice sessions, last week, they had a surprise visitor – Edward (Eddy) Joseph, a former member of the group Steelers, who is now based in Germany.

Eddy is here on a short visit and is scheduled to return to Germany, tomorrow (30).

He spent an hour with Mirage, at their practice session, and says he is disappointed that he would not be around for the group’s opening night.

However, there is a possibility of several well-known personalities, in the showbiz scene, turning up, on Friday night, to experience the sounds of the new-look Mirage, including Sohan Weerasinghe and Joey Lewis (from London).

Rajiv Sebastian, too, says he is keen to be a part of the fun-filled evening.

You could contact Benjy, on 0777356356, if you need to double check…their plans for AWESOME FRIDAY!

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