Cargo vessel fire extinguished, as Sri Lanka copes with marine disaster

Flames broke out aboard the vessel on May 20, and spread rapidly after an onboard explosion on May 25

Published - June 01, 2021 07:24 pm IST - COLOMBO

Smoke rises from a fire onboard the MV X-Press Pearl vessel in the seas off the Colombo Harbour, in Sri Lanka May 30, 2021.

Smoke rises from a fire onboard the MV X-Press Pearl vessel in the seas off the Colombo Harbour, in Sri Lanka May 30, 2021.

The fire aboard a Singapore-registered cargo ship off Colombo was finally extinguished after about two weeks following a concerted international operation, the Sri Lankan Navy said on Tuesday.

“Experts from the [Dutch] salvage company SMIT boarded the vessel [MV X-Press Pearl] and said the engine rooms are flooded. Our divers are yet to obtain clearance to check if there is any leak. The Indian Coast Guard vessels are also still here, assisting us,” Captain Indika De Silva told The Hindu .

Flames broke out aboard the vessel on May 20, and spread rapidly after an onboard explosion on May 25, leading to what Sri Lanka’s environmentalists fear could be the country’s worst environmental disaster .

The vessel, which left the Hazira port in Gujarat on May 15, was headed to Singapore via Colombo, carrying 25 tonnes of nitric acid, other chemicals and 28 containers of plastic raw material. Much of the cargo reportedly fell into the sea, while tonnes of plastic pellets were found deposited along Sri Lanka's coastline, prompting authorities to restrict access to the sea and impose a fishing ban.

Also read: Sri Lanka evacuates crew from burning ship

Sri Lanka’s Marine Protection Authority chairperson Dharshani Lahandapura said: “This is probably the worst beach pollution in our history.” Many social media users shared photographs of plastic pellet heaps and dead fishes along the country’s southern beaches.

Also read: Sri Lanka to sue Singapore vessel owners over pollution

Meanwhile, Sri Lankan investigators questioned the crew of the cargo ship, even as the vessel smouldered for over 12 days. The Criminal Investigation Department recorded a statement from the captain for 14 hours on Monday, Colombo-based The Morning newspaper reported. The Colombo Magistrate’s Court issued an order preventing the Captain, Chief Engineer, and the Deputy Chief Engineer of the vessel from leaving the country.

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