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Burning Supertanker Towed Away From Land

January 25, 1993

SINGAPORE (AP) _ Tugs towed the burning Danish supertanker Maersk Navigator away from a remote Indian island today to reduce the threat of pollution from leaking oil.

A huge slick had drifted to within 10 miles of the island of Great Nicobar in the Andaman Sea, said a statement from the ship’s owner, Copenhagen-based A.P. Moller Co.

Indian Coast Guard vessels and aircraft sprayed chemicals today to try to disperse the slick, which a Coast Guard official said had decreased in length from 30 miles to 10 miles.

″The spill is being progressively tackled at the source and the oil appears to have scattered,″ said Coast Guard Commandant S.P. Sharma.

″The pollution risk appeared to be quite large at first, but since the tanker is being taken away the threat has now reduced,″ he said.

The Maersk Navigator was carrying 78 million gallons of oil when it collided Thursday with an unladen South Korean tanker near the northern entrance to the Malacca Strait between the Malay Peninsula and the Indonesian island of Sumatra.

No estimate has yet been offered on how much oil has leaked.

Salvage tugs planned to tow the Maersk Navigator to a position 65 miles south of Great Nicobar island and about 80 miles west of the northern tip of Sumatra.

The burning tanker is to be held there until flames near the ruptured No. 4 tank on its left side are doused. The Moller statement said the company hoped the fire would be extinguished in two days.

Water cannon on the salvage tugs are spraying the tanker’s hull to cool it and contain the fire until it can be blanketed with foam.

The cause of the collision has not been determined. There were no injuries in the accident and the fire that erupted on the Korean tanker Sanko Honour was quickly put out.

Sharma said the extent of the ecological damage could not be assessed until after the spraying operations end in about two weeks.

The Great Nicobar island is home to 28,000 aboriginal tribespeople.

The Malacca Strait is one of the world’s busiest waterways. Malaysia’s National Maritime Council says about 200 large merchant ships and 1,800 smaller vessels, including fishing craft, use the strait each day.

The accident prompted officials in Malaysia and Indonesia to call for tougher restrictions on supertankers using the waterway.

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad wants to impose a toll to pay for better navigational aids and cleaning up spilled oil.

Indonesian Environment Minister Emil Salim wants the minimum clearance between the hull of a tanker and the sea floor increased to 16 1/2 feet from the current 11 1/2 .

Others suggest that laden supertankers be required to use other routes through the Indonesian archipelago that offer deeper passage.

25-93 0829EST

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