Sailors put out blaze in oil tanker: Ship reaches KKS

by Shamindra Ferdinando
A small group of navy personnel on Tuesday succeeded in putting out the fire on board the oil tanker - Dunhinda - that caught fire following two simultaneous attacks, mounted by fast moving LTTE craft laden with explosives, approximately 10 nautical miles north of Point Pedro, a senior navy officer said.

Initially, the ship was identified as MV Silk Pride by the Defence Ministry.

"Both attacks targeted the engine room of the vessel," he said adding naval units, directed to rescue Dunhinda’s 11-member crew and 16 security forces personnel, had succeeded in rescuing the entire civilian crew and 13 of the security contingent.

Instead of abandoning the burning ship that could have exploded at any time, the sailors fought courageously for about five hours and managed to put out the fire.

"It’s a miracle," the officer said expressing satisfaction that they foiled the enemy bid to cripple fuel supplies to the Jaffna peninsula.

"They would not have expected us to board the ship to save the crew, the security contingent and then to make a desperate bid to control the fire," he said. The navy had to depend on fire fighting systems on board the vessels deployed for the rescue operation to battle the fire while some personnel boarded the stricken vessel to transfer the civilian crew and the security contingent.

Three of the security contingent were killed in the blasts. Their bodies were recovered and airlifted to Ratmalana yesterday.

The stricken vessel, owned by Lanka Maritime Services, was carrying 225 tonnes of diesel, 275 tonnes of auto diesel and 160 tonnes of kerosene.

It was approaching Kankesanthurai when the explosive-laden LTTE craft rammed it at 5.30 pm, the officer said, adding that there had been four other LTTE boats, believed to be attack craft, lurking in the area.

The navy towed the stricken vessel to the Kankesanthurai harbour yesterday morning. "We would start pumping the fuel stocks during the day," a senior navy headquarters based officer said.

The officers said that Tuesday’s attack was aimed at crippling fuel supplies to the peninsula. "They wanted to deny electricity to the people," the officer said pointing out that they needed fuel to operate generators, some of them donated by the British government.

The navy said that the vessel was not given a naval escort as it was carrying supplies for the civilian population and accused the LTTE of engaging in a campaign to harass people living in areas under government control.