Monday, 14 June, 2021

Disaster Feared as Chemical Cargo Ship Sinks off Sri Lanka

Authority Authority
Adrian Cunningham | 03 June, 2021, 00:25

A fire onboard a cargo vessel off Sri Lanka's coast continued to rage for the 11th straight day on Tuesday, causing what could be the region's worst marine pollution in history.

Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has issued directives to tow the fire stricken MV X-Press Pearl ship out to deep seas, President's Media Division said today. Our divers are yet to obtain clearance to check if there is any leak.

Navy Spokesman Captain Indika de Silva told Colombo Gazette that the fire has been contained to a great extent, but certain parts at the back of the vessel have begun to submerge. The ship carries 81 unsafe goods containers, including 25 tons of nitric acid, some of which has already leaked.

The Singapore-registered MV X-Press Pearl, carrying 1,486 containers - including 25 tonnes of nitric acid, along with other chemicals and cosmetics - was anchored off the island's west coast when a fire erupted on 20 May.

Authorities fear a bigger disaster if the oil leaks into the ocean and nearby lagoons before the vessel can be towed away.

Experts fear the MV X-Press Pearl is in imminent danger of sinking.

Fisheries minister Kanchana Wijesekera tweeted that the salvage company involved in the operation "has indicated that the vessel is sinking at the current location".

Sri Lanka has launched a criminal investigation into the fire and the marine pollution.

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A salvage crew is towing the vessel to deeper water, Wijesekera added.

The Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA) chief Dharshani Lahandapura said they were still assessing the ecological damage, but believed it was the "worst ever in my lifetime".

Charitha Pattiaratchi, a professor of oceanography at the University of Western Australia, says the incident will have "extreme environmental impact".

As a precautionary measure, the authorities reimposed a fishing ban along about 80 kilometers (50 miles) of the coast. The government has said it will take legal action against the owners of the ship to claim compensation.

A dead fish lies on the shores of Sarakkuwa beach, amid piles of plastic pellets, just north of the capital Colombo on Tuesday.

The inundation of microplastic granules from the cargo has already forced a fishing ban and prompted concern for wildlife and the marine environment.

Sri Lanka's navy chief, Vice Admiral Nishantha Ulugetenne, who was also at Sunday's talks with the island's chief prosecutor, said the X-Press Pearl was still on fire, but the blaze was now under control.

Police said three officers from the ship, two Russians and an Indian, had been questioned and their passports impounded.