Burnt-out ship sinking off Sri Lanka coast

Lawrence Kim
June 3, 2021

A cargo ship carrying chemicals and plastic pellets has been burning off the coast of Sri Lanka for almost two weeks.

Salvage experts were attempting to tow a fire-stricken container ship that had been loaded with chemicals into the deep sea as the vessel started to sink off Sri Lanka's main port, officials said. Our divers are yet to obtain clearance to check if there is any leak.

The presence of high winds have been intensifying and spreading the blaze, Sri Lankan navy spokesman Indika de Silva told The Associated Press.

Members of the Sri Lankan Navy remove debris washed ashore from the X-Press Pearl, which has been burning offshore of Colombo since May 20.

Along with columns of fumes going up into the sky, the incident has also led to tonnes of fuel and micro plastics spilling into the Indian Ocean and killing its marine life, Guardian reported.

Officials believe the blaze destroyed most of the 1,486 containers on board.

The vessel's operator, X-Press Feeders, confirmed Monday that salvors report no visible flames aboard the vessel, though smoke emanating from the ship's aft.

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

But Darshani Lahandapura, chair of Sri Lanka's Marine Environment Protection Authority, told environmental news site Mongabay that "we believe it was due to a chemical reaction due to leakage of nitric acid".

The X-Press Pearl, was sailing from India's Gujarat to Colombo when a fire broke out on board on May 20, as it was nine nautical miles off the Sri Lankan coast.

The government has banned fishing along an 80-kilometre stretch of coastline, affecting 5,600 fishing boats, while hundreds of soldiers have been deployed to clean the beach.

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. Powerful explosions rocked the ship, forcing the evacuation of its crew.

Charitha Pattiaratchi, a professor of oceanography at the University of Western Australia, said the ship was carrying 78 tons of plastic pallets called nurdles, a raw material used to make plastic bags.

Below, smoke rises from the MV X-Press Pearl engulfed in flames off the port of Colombo on May 25.

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

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

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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