TEHRAN (Press Shia Agency) – A veteran firefighter said on Tuesday that it could take weeks to extinguish a Hong Kong oil tanker fire which is still burning off Lamma Island.

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It would also be a difficult and dangerous mission, the officer added.

The blaze on the Vietnam-registered oil and chemical tanker Aulac Fortune broke out about one nautical mile south of Lamma Island soon after 11.30am, killing at least one person. By 3pm, three people were still missing.

Three fireboats, a government helicopter and a marine police vessel were sent to deal with the blaze, the first major oil tanker fire in Hong Kong waters in at least three decades, the South China Morning Post reported.

Describing the incident as extremely rare, the senior officer said he had never seen such a fire during his 30 years’ service, but routine training prepared firefighters for one.

“Depending on the situation, the two major fireboats spray up firefighting foam to coat the tanker, to suppress the combustion. Other fireboats use water jets to cool the vessel,” the insider said, on condition of anonymity.

“It takes (firefighters overseas) several days or even a few weeks to extinguish oil tanker fires in worst-case scenarios. It is definitely not easy.”

Emergency workers rescued 24 sailors who had either fallen or jumped into the sea to escape the blaze. About four were taken to Ruttonjee Hospital in Wan Chai.

The insider said that before making strategy the rescue commander would have to speak to the ship’s captain to get a full picture of the chemicals and crew on board, and the tanker’s structure. The commander would also need to assess the risk of sending firefighters aboard.

“Apart from the risk of explosions, don’t forget that an oil tanker is made of metal and the temperature is extremely high after long hours of fire. The high temperature itself can cause more blazes. Tanker compartments are also complicated and narrow,” the insider continued.

“All these pose great danger to firefighters going aboard. We normally do not take such risks if no one is trapped inside the vessel.”

The source added that such a fire did not allow divers to go into the water for a rescue mission, as oil leaks could cause fire on water.

“The divers would die immediately (if that happened). We normally sail small boats to rescue people on water and send divers later, only when the situation allows.”