The Russian Defence Ministry said on Thursday that it has diverted ships of the Pacific Fleet that were heading for drills in the area to assist the New Diamond oil tanker, which is reportedly in flames.

Earlier in the day, a Sri Lankan navy spokesman said that the country had dispatched an aircraft and two navy ships to assist a fully loaded very large crude carrier (VLCC), the New Diamond, that has caught fire off Sri Lanka's east coast.

"The Sri Lanka air force has scrambled an observation aircraft and the navy has sent in two ships to help with rescue efforts," Commander Ranjith Rajapaksa told Reuters.

Sri Lanka's Marine Protection Authority has stated that it would take measures to prevent any possible oil leak from the tanker, which, according to local media, was carrying 270,000 tonnes or the equivalent of about 2 million barrels of oil.

The fire reportedly occurred at 7:45 am India time (2:15 GMT) in the engine-room of the vessel.