Sinking cargo ship sparking fears of oil spill catastrophe in Sri Lanka
SRI LANKA / CNN — A container ship that caught fire 13 days ago off the Sri Lankan coast is unleashing one of the most disastrous ecological accidents in the country’s history as it starts to sink, officials said.
Since May 20, the Sri Lanka Navy and Indian Coast Guard have been working non-stop to try and prevent the flaming ship from sinking. The ship is laden with chemicals like nitric acid and was holding 350 metric tons of oil in its tanks, officials said.
Sri Lanka’s Marine Environment Protection Authority has warned the Singaporean-registered ship, called the MV X-Press Pearl, could create an oil spill emergency. It expects pristine beaches along an 18-mile stretch of coastline from the tourist spot of Negombo to Dikowita to be hit.
The fire, which raged for almost two weeks, has prompted a large-scale clean-up operation along Sri Lanka’s western coast, as millions of plastic micro pellets blanketed beaches near the capital Colombo. Fishing in the area was suspended and environmentalists warned birds and marine life could be threatened by plastic and chemical pollution.
Authorities fear a bigger disaster if the oil leaks into the ocean and nearby lagoons before the vessel can be towed away.
Sri Lanka’s State Minister of Fisheries, Kanchana Wijesekera, said on Twitter the X-Press Pearl was “sinking at the current position” and fishing activities and other vessels have been barred from entering the Negombo Lagoon.
“Emergency measures are (being) taken to protect the lagoon and surrounding areas to contain the damage from any debris or in case of an oil leak,” Wijesekera added.
Images taken by Sri Lanka’s Navy show the hull of the container ship with its stern appearing to be submerged in the water as smoke billows from its bow.
Wijesekera said the X-Press Pearl was being “towed away to deep waters” by a salvage company and the navy.
However, “there are now concerns over the amount of water in the hull and its effect on the ship’s stability,” X-Press Feeders said. A previous attempt to tow the ship away was aborted on Tuesday due to a large ocean swell, it said.
The X-Press Pearl, was sailing from India’s Gujarat to Colombo when a fire broke out on board on May 20, as it was nine nautical miles off the Sri Lankan coast.
It was carrying 1,486 containers when the fire started, 81 of which held “dangerous goods,” including 25 metric tons of nitric acid, according to X-Press Feeders. The other chemicals onboard the ship are yet to be confirmed.
Sri Lankan authorities have launched criminal and civil probes into how the fire started.
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