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* Oil slick threatens Sri Lanka's west coast beaches
Fri, Aug 24, 2012, 07:16 pm SL Time, ColomboPage News Desk, Sri Lanka.

Aug 24, Colombo: Beaches in Sri Lanka's western coast are under threat from an oil slick heading to the shore after a 15,000-ton cargo ship sunk Thursday in the seas off Panadura in the Western Province.

The Cypress flagged Bulk Carrier MV Thermopylae Sierra which has been anchored for three years in the sea off Sri Lanka's west coast due to a pending court case sunk completely about 20 kilometers off Panadura coast after efforts to move the ship before the monsoon rains failed.

About 370 metric tons of furnace oil in the ship had been removed last month but another 75 tons of oil remained, the Director General of Commercial Shipping of the Ministry of Ports, Ajith Seneviratne has said.

"We knew that the ship could go down as the monsoon intensifies and we had pumped out most of the 600 tons of furnace oil it carried, but there was a residue that we could not pump out," Seneviratne has told AFP.

The Center for Disaster Management says the oil in the ship's tanks has started to leak to the ocean surface and the spill is currently drifting from Panadura towards Negombo.

Minister of Environment Anura Priyadarshana Yapa has said that measures have been taken to deal with the oil slick if it reaches the coast.

Disaster Management Centre director Sarath Kumara has told AFP that around 500 volunteers have been arranged into small units to clean up the coastal stretch of over 50 kilometers from the oil slick that is about 10 kilometers long.

A spokesman of the Environmental Ministry has said that as the ocean currents are moving towards the North and North West the oil slick has not moved towards the coast yet but if the direction of the current changed then the oil slick could move towards the coast very rapidly.

In addition to the harm on marine life, an oil slick reaching the coast between Panadura and Negombo will seriously threaten Sri Lanka's popular tourist resorts with white sandy beaches along that stretch of the coast.

The cargo ship operated by the Greek company Thesarco Shipping has been anchored since 2009, when the ship was detained by the courts due to a dispute between the ship owner and the crew.

The 155 meters long and 127 meters wide ship with a weight of 15,612 tons began to deteriorate as it remained at sea without being maintained and subsequently it started taking in water.

The Director General of Commercial Shipping of the Ministry of Ports said that the Master Divers Company was engaged in draining water from the decks to prevent the ship from sinking.

The ship was to be moved to Trincomalee after making the essential renovation work to prevent it from sinking.



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