Environmental disaster feared as ship sinks off Sri Lanka


The fire aboard a Singapore-registered cargo ship off Colombo was finally extinguished after about two weeks following a concerted worldwide operation, the Sri Lankan Navy said on Tuesday.

X-Press Feeders, operators of the container ship MV X-Press Pearl, said the experts were able to board the vessel and attach a tow line, but "efforts to move the ship to deeper waters have failed". Our divers are yet to obtain clearance to check if there is any leak.

Experts were trying to tow the ship farther out to see because if it sank at its current position off the port of Colombo it would cause severe pollution, said navy spokesperson Indika de Silva. There were 1486 containers on the vessel when the fire started, 81 of which were Dangerous Goods Containers, including 25 tonnes of Nitric Acid and containers of plastic pellets (nurdles).

The blaze has destroyed most of the ship's cargo.

A tugboat tried to tow the Singapore-flagged MV X-Press Pearl to deeper water Wednesday without success, he added.

Kanchana Wijesekera, Sri Lanka's Minister of Fisheries, said Wednesday that if there is a spill, booms and skimmers will be used around the vessel and at strategic locations, and spray will be used to disperse the oil slick.

Sri Lanka's Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA) has warned the Singaporean-registered ship, called the MV X-Press Pearl, could create an oil spill emergency.

The 25-strong crew was evacuated last week.

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The fire erupted on May 20 when the ship was anchored about 9.5 nautical miles north west of Colombo and waiting to enter the port.

The Police Inspector-General has ordered the Criminal Investigation Department to investigate the fire as well as the huge environmental damage caused, an official said. The government has said it will take legal action against the owners of the ship to claim compensation.

Pattiaratchi says that among the ship's risky goods were 78 metric tons of plastic called nurdles - the raw material used to make virtually all kinds of plastic products.

Indian High Commission in Colombo tweeted that salvors have finally embarked on the ship after dousing the fire and assessments are being carried out.

As of 1100 Hours on May 31, 2021, Sri Lankan time, the salvors have confirmed that the vessel's hull remains structurally intact, and there has been no loss of oil into the port's waters.

Police said that the captain and chief engineer, both Russian nationals, as well as a third officer have been questioned.

At least 4,500 fishermen were affected at the fishing and tourist resort of Negombo, officials from the Roman Catholic church in the area said Saturday as they pleaded for financial aid.