In distress for fourteen days off Sri Lanka, the container ship X-Press Pearl, damaged by fire, was in danger of sinking, while being towed into deeper water, Wednesday, June 2.
“The ship runs the imminent risk of sinking”Sri Lankan Navy spokesman Indika de Silva said hours after towing of the X-Press Pearl, registered in Singapore, in order to keep it away from the Colombo coast.
“The salvage company involved in Operation #XPressPearl explained that the ship was sinking where it is now”, Sri Lankan Fisheries Minister tweeted, Kanchana Wijesekera. Emergency measures have been put in place to protect the Negombo lagoon, Sri Lanka’s tourist hotspot and the surrounding areas in order to limit the damage caused by any debris or in the event of an oil spill, a- he added.
The day before, the fire had been extinguished thanks to an international operation. Experts from the Danish Sea Rescue Company (SMIT) boarded the freighter and reported high water levels in the engine room, de Silva said.
The fire was reported on May 20, as the ship was about to enter Colombo port. The crew first managed to contain it, before the strong winds accompanying the monsoon fanned the fire, forcing the crew to evacuate on May 25.
The ship, registered in Singapore, carried 25 tons of nitric acid and other chemicals, as well as 28 containers of plastic raw materials, most of which fell overboard. It also contains 278 tons of fuel oil and 50 tons. of diesel.
Tons of microplastic granules from the ship’s cargo have littered Sri Lanka’s beaches, leading to a fishing ban and causing ecological disaster. Thousands of soldiers have been sent to start collecting these plastic balls which pollute the beaches.
Sri Lanka Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA) chief Dharshani Lahandapura said he believed it was the “Worst accident ever during his lifetime” in the region from an ecological point of view. He added that the crew were apparently aware of a nitric acid leak on May 11, long before the ship entered Sri Lankan waters, en route to Malaysia and Singapore.
Sri Lanka opened a criminal investigation on Monday. Local police spokesman Ajith Rohana said the captain and chief engineer, both of Russian nationality, had been questioned for 14 hours since Monday.
The ship was heading for Colombo from Gujarat, India. He had previously traveled to Qatar and Dubai, where the nitric acid containers were loaded. Sri Lankan authorities suspect that the acid leak started the fire. A Sri Lankan court on Tuesday ordered the confiscation of the passports of the three main crew members pending a full investigation. Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has asked Australia for help in assessing the damage to the environment.