Disaster Feared as Chemical Cargo Ship Sinks off Sri Lanka

Crippled ship at risk of sinking off Sri Lanka

It was carrying 1,486 containers, including 25 tons of nitric acid and other chemicals that were loaded at the port of Hazira, India, on May 15.

The fire has been under control since Sunday, officials said, adding, however, that the vessel continued to smoke on Monday and that high monsoon winds were fanning flames at the back of the ship.

The intense fire, still burning at the rear of the 186 metre (610 feet) vessel, has destroyed much of the cargo, some of which also fell into the Indian Ocean. Eighty-one of those were risky goods containers, including 25 tons of nitric acid.

Authorities suspect the crew knew about the acid leak from May 11.

"Most of the evacuated crew continue to serve out quarantine at dedicated local hotels, whilst select seafarers have today been helping local police with their enquiries into the fire and are cooperating with investigators".

X-Press Feeders, the cargo ship company, said Wednesday that it "regret [s] to report that despite salvors successfully boarding the vessel and attaching a tow wire, efforts to move the ship to deeper waters have failed". The ship's stern is now touching bottom, the company said.

The fire on the MV X-Press Pearl has been burning since May 20, ravaging the Singapore-flagged ship, which officials say is only about five months old. The vessel was carrying almost 350 tons of fuel oil, and salvage teams have prepared for the event of an oil spill.

Sri Lanka has temporarily banned fishing along a 50-mile stretch of its coast, where nitric acid has leaked into the water, and plastic pellets have washed up ashore.

It's not clear how the fire started.

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".

Fisheries minister Kanchana Wijesekera said the government would compensate them for their expected losses.

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.

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.

An AFP photographer at Sarakkuwa, just north of the Colombo port, said the vessel's stern was underwater.

Endless piles of the plastic pellets can already be seen on shore. In that case, they suggested, the best course of action would be to take the ship to the deep sea to minimize possible damage to the marine environment.

Sri Lankan navy members pull a sack with debris washed off to a beach from the MV X-Press Pearl container ship, on a beach in Ja-Ela, Sri Lanka, May 28, 2021.



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