A fire onboard a cargo vessel off Sri Lanka’s coast continues to rage for the 11th day straight, causing what could be the worst marine pollution in history for the region.
The fire broke out on the MV X-Press Pearl, a Singapore-registered ship that is only 3 months old, on May 20 which intensified four days later after an explosion. The ship was carrying 1486 containers, some of which including chemicals (25 tonnes of hazardous nitric acid and more), raw materials, and cosmetics. The ship had over 300 metric tonnes of fuel in its tanks and the blaze has reportedly destroyed most of the cargo onboard causing General Average to be declared (Marine insurance matters!).
The Sri Lankan Navy and the Indian Coast Guard (ICG) have been working to douse the flames. Five fire-fighting tugboats are being aided by a Sri Lankan navy ship. Meanwhile, India has deployed two ships and an ICG aircraft
This blaze has caused severe ecological damage with microplastics and fuel spilling into the ocean and washing up onto the beaches. The tiny polyethylene pellets threaten beaches popular with tourists as well as shallow waters used by fish to breed. Fishing has been banned along an 80-kilometre stretch of coast near the ship.
Roman Catholic priest Sujeewa Athukorale said most of his parishioners were fishermen who risked becoming destitute.
“Their immediate need is to be allowed to go back to the sea,” he said. “There are 4,500 fishing families in my parish alone.”
An officer leading a cleanup team said that on certain parts of the beach the microplastics and charred debris were 60 centimetres deep. A Navy sailor said his team had almost cleared the beach one evening, but was shocked to find it covered again the following morning.
Local fisherman Peter Fernando, 68, said he had never seen such destruction. Another fisherman, Lakshan Fernando, 30, said people feared the plastic waste could destroy mangroves as well as the corals where fish breed in the shallow water.
Fire stricken MV X-Press Pearl cargo ship, has sunk off the coast of Sri Lanka during an attempt to tow the vessel to deeper waters.
Captain Indika de Silva, Navy Media Spokesman, said the towing the ship to the deeper seas was abandoned as the stern of the ship sank to the seabed when it was being towed 500 to 600 meters westward, reported Colombo Page (a Sri Lankan news site).
X-Press Feeders, operators of the container ship ‘X-Press Pearl’ reported that despite salvors successfully boarding the vessel and attaching a tow wire, efforts to move the ship to deeper waters have failed.
The operators in an update confirmed that the ship’s aft portion (rear of the ship) is now touching the bottom of the sea at a depth of 21 meters, reported Colombo Page.