Ship burns, sailors critical..fear of eco disaster

Mumbai, March 8 Amid fears of a potential ecological disaster, a container ship continued to burn on Thursday off Agatti island in the Arabian Sea, with Indian officials revealing that its cargo was of dangerous class.

The ship is laden with containers classified as "dangerous" and "very hazardous to human beings", capable of emitting poisons that can kill humans within a short time, besides being corrosive in nature.

However, the officials ruled out the possibility of any environment issues at the moment and pointed out that "the hull of the ship is not affected by the fire and only the containers are seen burning".

"We are hopeful of dousing the fire within another day or so and assess the situation after that," said an official declining to be identified.

The tragedy has occurred at the doorstep of the eco-sensitive Lakshadweep Islands, off the south-west coast of India.

The officials could not confirm whether the fire and the intense heat it has generated, which has already melted many containers, may have weakened the ship's hull and other critical metallic parts.

Meanwhile, the Indian Coast Guard said the condition of three rescued sailors was critical as they may have inhaled the toxic fumes after the fire erupted late on Tuesday.

Working round-the-clock, the Coast Guard has deployed a high speed interceptor boat from Vizhinjam Port to pick up the trio from a foreign vessel, MV ALS Ceres, and rush them to a hospital in Thiruvananthapuram.

The remaining 19 rescued crewmen are being taken to Kochi, also in Kerala. The Coast Guard suspects the toxic fumes may have affected all the sailors, four of whom remain missing.

The three whose condition is critical Deepu Jayan of India, Sukun Suwannapeng of Thailand and Alan Rey Palce Gabunilas of the Philippines.

Presently, the fire-fighting operations are being carried out from a safe distance by the Coast Guard Shoor to avoid coming in contact with the toxic fumes and flames.

According to preliminary information, the blaze erupted in one of the decks carrying the chemicals.

Late on Tuesday, following a massive explosion, a fire broke out on the Singapore-flagged vessel Maersk Honam, carrying a cargo of chemicals en route to Suez in Egypt.

While 23 sailors were rescued, four others, including an Indian, are still missing and a maritime and aerial search with helicopters and an aircraft has been undertaken to trace them.

The intensity of the blaze, with flames leaping more than 25 metres into the air, was so strong that the sizzling temperature melted many containers on board.

The Coast Guard found some empty lifeboats floating in the vicinity but there was no sign of the missing crewmen.