Oil spill off Colombo manageable, say officials

Sri Lankan officials say the 10km-long slick poses no danger to popular tourist spots

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 26 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 26 August, 2012, 4:59am


An oil slick from a rusting cargo vessel that sank in bad weather reached the coast of Sri Lanka's capital yesterday, but officials insisted the spill was "manageable" and could easily be cleaned up.

A patch of oil reached the coast off Wellawatte, a zone of Colombo popular with local swimmers, the coast conservation department said.

The national Disaster Management Centre (DMC) has said the slick is about 10 kilometres long and warned that areas popular with tourists could be at risk.

But the spill had not reached any such areas yesterday and the conservation department said it did not pose a great danger.

"The spill is manageable and the leak from the sunken ship had stopped from last night," department chief Anil Premarathne said.

"About 10 or 15 people would be enough for this clean-up."

The rusting 15,000-tonne Thmothrmopolyseara, a Cyprus-flagged carrier, went down late on Thursday after remaining anchored outside the Colombo harbour since 2009 following a dispute over its cargo of steel, local officials said.

The DMC said it had mobilised 500 volunteers, including security personnel, for a coastal clean-up if the problem got worse. Centre director Sarath Kumara said much of the 600 tonnes of oil had been pumped out before it sank and only a small residue remained aboard.

The coast line from Mount Lavinia, a popular tourist resort south of Colombo, and Negombo, the first beach resort opened for tourism in the early 1970s, was at risk, the DMC said. The vessel had been detained by Sri Lankan courts following litigation over the cargo of steel valued at more than US$300 million, according to reports.

Sri Lanka's merchant shipping authority director Ajith Seneviratne said they were ready to tow the ship away to a salvage yard, but were prevented by a court order against the removal.