Crippled ship at risk of sinking off Sri Lanka

Crippled ship at risk of sinking off Sri Lanka

The fire aboard the MV X-Press Pearl was finally extinguished Tuesday after a 13-day global operation, the navy said.

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". Our divers are yet to obtain clearance to check if there is any leak.

Navy spokesman Indika de Silva told AFP that the stern had sunk to the bottom at a depth of 22 meters (72 feet), near Pamunugama, just north of Colombo.

Of the 1,486 containers aboard the ship before the blaze, 81 contained risky goods, including 25 metric tons of nitric acid, according to X-Press Feeders.

Water submerged the MV X-Press Pearl's quarterdeck a day after firefighters extinguished a blaze that had been burning for 12 days.

Smoke billows from the Singapore-registered container ship X-Press Pearl on Wednesday.

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".

The fire erupted on May 20 when the ship was anchored about 9.5 nautical miles (18 kilometers) northwest of Colombo and waiting to enter the port.

Fishermen have been banned from the 80-kilometre (50-mile) stretch of coast, where tonnes of plastic pellets have washed up, sparking a massive clean-up effort.

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.

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. While dousing the fire appeared to be successful initially, the fire exploded in intensity last week and all 25 crew members and a salvage team from SMIT were evacuated. The government has said it will take legal action against the owners of the ship to claim compensation.

Sri Lanka's navy chief, Vice Admiral Nishantha Ulugetenne, who was also at Sunday's talks with the island's chief prosecutor, said the X-Press Pearl was still on fire, but the blaze was now under control. "They are transported by the wind and currents - will remain at the surface until beached and will persist in the marine environment for ever as they are not biodegradable", Pattiaratchi wrote on his Facebook page.

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

Related Articles