It Sri Lanka it is facing one of the worst environmental disasters in its history.
A cargo ship that was carrying dangerous chemicals the May 21 caught fire while anchored off the country’s west coast.
The container ship X-Press Pearl, which beats the Singapore flag, was located 9.5 nautical miles (18 kilometers) from Kepungoda, a city located between the capital Colombo and Negombo. The fire was only extinguished 12 days later, Tuesday 1st June, thanks to the joint work of the Sinhalese and Indian navies. Meantime tons of plastic granules they have inundated the coasts and strategic areas for fishing.
On Wednesday, June 2, a rescue team tried to drag the wreck further from the coast to limit the damage. But the operations were complicated by rough seas and monsoon winds and X-Press Feeders, the company that owns the ship, announced that the attempts had failed.
Now the container ship, a giant with a length of 186 meters, is sinking. The stern has already touched the seabed, at a depth of 21 meters.
Hundreds of tons of fuel oil could spill from the fuel tanks (in total the ship was carrying some 348 tons) and disperse in the sea. The marine fauna and flora would thus risk being devastated.
The worst scenario for our ecosystems
The sinking represents the worst environmental scenario, the doctor told the BBC Ajantha Perera, Sinhalese environmental activist: a disaster for the ecosystems of a large area off the coast of Sri Lanka. With all the dangerous goods, nitric acid and fuel in the ship, sinking the ship will destroy the entire seabed.
The coastal stretch near the city of Negombo – home to some of the country’s most pristine beaches until a few days ago – has been struggling with thepollution caused by fuel and debris. There have not yet been any oil leaks from the ship, but there are agreements to address a possible spill, the worst-case scenario, adds Dr. Perera. (read on after the video and links)
A fatal blow to the fishing industry
The Sri Lankan Marine Protection Agency said it is gearing up to block and disperse the fuel if a leak occurs. They have already been put in place emergency measures to protect the Negombo lagoon and the surrounding areas and state all fishing suspended from Panadura a Negombo.
Joshua Anthony, head of the regional fisheries union, warned that the sinking could be a fatal blow to the local fishing industry. We can’t go overboard, which means we can’t make a living.
The chronicle of the devastating accident
The X-Press Pearl, built only a few months ago, had previously faced the usual operations of unloading and loading goods before in the port of Hamad, in Qatar, and then in that of Hazira, in India. She had left Hazira the May 15 to arrive in Colombo on the night of May 19.
The May, 20th the crew had signaled the presence of smoke on board and the 21 exploded a fire on the deck of the ship. On 23 May 12 crew members were evacuated to make room for as many firefighters.
The May 25when the situation worsened, the other 13 crew members and 12 firefighters were also evacuated. Two crew members were injured during the evacuation operations and one tested positive for Covid-19.
A terrible load of chemicals and plastics
At the time of the fire the ship was carrying 1.486 container, most of which were incinerated. Eighty-one containers contained dangerous goods, included 25 tons of nitric acid, cosmetics and other chemicals. At least the contents of one of the containers with the nitric acid have already spilled into the sea. The remaining cargo consisted of food, vehicles, vehicle parts and automotive products, construction and manufacturing supplies and raw materials, polyethylene granules and other goods.
The first loss of nitric acid
Sri Lankan officials believe the fire was caused by one loss of nitric acid which the crew was aware of fromMay 11th. X-Press Feeders said information that the ship was denied refuge in Qatar and India after the discovery of an acid leak was incorrect. Both Hamad and Hazira ports were asked to unload a container leaking nitric acid, but there were no specialized facilities available to deal with the problem, the company clarified. In any case, the officials presented one police complaint against the captain of X-Press Pear, who on Tuesday 1 June together with the ship’s engineer was interrogated by the authorities for over 14 hours. A court has issued an order preventing the captain, chief engineer and additional engineer from leaving the country.