Trincomalee Oil Tank Farm and World War II (ත්‍රිකුණාමලය තෙල් ටැංකි සංකීර්ණය)

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The Oil Tank Farm of Trincomallee built by the British but was never used in full capacity after independence is a forgotten marvel lost in time and absorbed by the jungles. This  is a hidden landmark  to the public eye but provides a spectacular aerial view creating 101 random circles covering 850 acres, like eggs of a giant alien waiting to be hatched from a sci-fi movie. Most of this land is covered by scrub jungle teaming with wildlife including elephants and leopards.

Trincomalee harbour being the second deepest natural harbour in the world, the British who were in control of the island decided make this as their primary logistics station in the east after world war I. They started the oil storage project in the 1924 and completed in late 1930’s. The farm had 101 storage tanks built with 1 inch thick steel sheets and the tanks near the harbour are enclosed by 1 feet thick concrete rings.

Legend has it that labourers were brought in from British African colonies to complete the work. 102 tanks were planned but the site of 100th tank was cleared but never built probably out of superstition.

Each tank could hold 12,000 tonnes of fuel and has a astonishing  total capacity of over 1.2 million tonnes. This dwarfs the CPC’s existing storage facility and even the new storage complex built by the Chinese at Muthurajawela, which has a capacity of 200,000 tonnes.

The storage complex fell in to disuse after the British ceded power in 1948 and the nature took over the land. The government owned CPC used only 15 tanks in the lower tank farm close to the sea until the farm was handed over to the Indian oil giant IOC in 2004. The IOC too used only these tanks while others were forgotten in the jungles.

Out of the 101 tanks one of the tanks was destroyed when a Royal Ceylon Air Force plane crashed in early 1960’s.  The steel has long since been removed with only the concrete cover remaining.

But most famous is the destroyed tank number 91 lying in the far edge of the forest. Only the charred, twisted and melted metal remains of this tank and a small notice near the tank gives details of how the tank was destroyed in a kamikaze attack during the Japanese air raid on Trincomalee at dawn on April 9, 1942.

The Trincomalee harbour was a critical operational and logistic station for the allied forces operating the region during the world war II. The Japanese attacked Trincomalee harbour in 1942 and the tank farm which provided refueling facility for most of the Naval destroyers in the region was one of their main targets. The Japanese couldn’t achieve its objective, but  one plane piloted by a ‘Shigenori Watanabe’ probably hit by anti-aircraft gun fire made a kamikaze dive on to the tank number 91.

The resulting fire that broke out lasted for seven days and generated so much heat that the steel melted and rolled over on itself. The rusted wreckage of the engine is all that can be seen of the aircraft is now on display at the Air Force Museum in Colombo. Only a skull was recovered out of the remains of the passengers of the air craft.

This strategic oil tank farm had come under much controversy in the recent years. The lower oil tank farm of 14 units had been given to IOC India in 2004 on a 20 year lease. Recently the government of Sri Lanka worked feverishly to extend this lease for a further 50 years. Also rest of the 800 acre farm is to be leased out to India for a annual payment of USD 100,000 per annum through a joint company formed for this purpose. The deal is shrouded in mystery with various spokesmen giving different stories on this deal.

Since this tank farm is under the control of IOC, permission is required to visit the Tank Number 91.

Also See

Map of  Trincomalee Oil Tank Farm

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Travel Directions to Trincomalee Oil Tank Farm

Route from Trincomalee to Oil Tank Farm
Through : Nilaweli Road
Distance :  5 km
Travel time : 10 minutes
Driving directions : see on google map

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