X-Press Pearl – Update : 29.05.2021
It is rarely that a 2-3 month old ship faces a possible fiery end of its life. The world hopes that will not be the case with the X-Press Pearl – a Singapore flagged 36150 DWT container ship which is still burning in Sri Lankan waters, off the port of Colombo since the 21st of May.
As per the operators of the vessel X-Press Feeders, firefighting operations to extinguish the blaze aboard the vessel have successfully reduced the area affected by flames and contained it to the aft of the ship, despite the adverse weather conditions.
Firefighting tugs continue spraying and misting the vessel with support from the Sri Lankan Navy and Indian coastguard, who remain on scene to assist in the operation.
X-Press Feeders are further reporting that as of 09:45 the 29th of May 2021, the salvors of the vessel – Smit Salvage – have confirmed that the vessel’s hull and bunker tanks remains structurally intact and that there has been no loss of oil into the port’s waters. This has been also confirmed by the Sri Lankan Navy.
However, there is serious concern that there will be severe environmental impact due to the incident in which several containers have already fallen off the ship and have washed up ashore, especially near Negombo a popular tourist destination in Sri Lanka.
Images of contractors and people cleaning up debris, especially tonnes of plastic waste, are making the rounds in the media. Clean up and safe disposal efforts are being made by the authorities.
While the cleaning operations continue for the third day, fishermen have been banned from an 80-kilometre (50-mile) stretch of coast near the ship as authorities are worried about the millions of polyethylene pellets washing up on beaches and threatening fish-breeding shallow waters which is known for its crabs and jumbo prawns as well as its tourist beaches.
“This is probably the worst beach pollution in our history,” said Dharshani Lahandapura, head of Sri Lanka’s Marine Environment and Protection Authority (MEPA).
Ms Lahandapura advised the media that “Our best option is to clean the beach and we suspect any clearing operation will take a few weeks, if not months.” She added that they “will test the air and water quality amid concerns that the fumes from the blazing ship might have contaminated the air and water sources and could have harmful effects on the residents“.
The impact on mangroves, lagoons and marine wildlife in the region is still to be assessed but the MEPA is advising that thousands of fishermen are at risk of losing their livelihood in the immediate to near future.
The ship was carrying among other goods, cargoes of sodium hydroxide, lubricants and other chemicals much of which is said to have been destroyed in the fire as per MEPA officials.
Visuals released by local media has shown that various beaches extending from Colombo to Negombo on the country’s West Coast, had been polluted from debris from the burning ship and authorities have warned people not to touch it as it may be harmful
Dharshani Lahandapura is reported to have told AFP news agency that “the crew had known of a nitric acid leak aboard the vessel even before it entered Sri Lankan waters, and the fire could have been avoided if they acted promptly” even as experts are considering the option of towing the ship to deeper waters in the Indian Ocean, presumably to address the possibility of the ship sinking.
It is also understood that officials have lodged a police complaint against the captain of the X-Press Pearl, who was rescued along with other crew members, in line with several other incidents where Captains of ships have been held Captains of ships have been held personally responsible for maritime disasters involving their ships.
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