MV X-Press Pearl ship on fire in Sri Lanka: “Environmental disaster”

An environmental disaster off the coast of Sri Lanka: the one announced by the local authorities who are currently witnessing the sad spectacle of the merchant ship X-Press Pearl sinking into the waters. The problem is the boat load. The 186-meter (610 ft) long ship left the Indian port of Hazira on May 15 with a cargo of 1,486 containers which contained nitric acid, chemicals and cosmetics, among other things. Added to this is the fuel that is in the cargo tanks. A load of poisons that is pouring into a hitherto unspoiled natural paradise.

The sinking started two weeks ago

The ship sank off the east coast after an onboard fire that broke out two weeks ago, probably caused by a leak of nitric acid. In recent days India and Sri Lanka had worked together to try to put out the fire on board, trying to prevent the ship from sinking with the cargo. Unfortunately the sea and atmospheric conditions did not play in favor, making the extinguishing operations more difficult and long. Fortunately, no casualties were recorded: the crew of 25 sailors and technicians was evacuated in time. After putting out the flames, the experts tried yesterday to tow the wreck to limit the damage, but even in this case something went wrong.

The ship broke in two and one part sank

The ship broke in two: the stern part sank into the sea to a depth of about 69 feet while the bow of the ship is still above the waterline. The spokesman for the Sri Lankan navy, Indika de Silva, explained to the AFP that “if the bow also hits the sea floor there will still be a section of the upper deck and the bridge that will protrude from the water. There are no oil leaks from the ship yet, but agreements are in place to deal with a possible spill which is the worst case scenario ”. Meanwhile, security measures are being put in place to protect marine life not yet damaged.

Sri Lanka’s Marine Environment Protection Authority has announced that it is preparing floating barriers, absorbent and dispersant booms and skimmers. While the Colombo government has decided to ban fishing 50 miles from the coast. The stretch near the city of Negombo – a tourist resort where there are some of the most pristine beaches in the country – has already noticed traces of oil and debris pollution for days. The images of Negombo beach, a popular tourist destination in Sri Lanka, covered with debris, especially plastic elements, go around the world.

Photo: EPA/CHAMILA KARUNARATHNE

Meanwhile, action is being taken on several fronts. On the one hand to try to avoid a natural disaster, on the other to ascertain responsibility for what happened. In recent days, the Sri Lankan police reported that they had interrogated the ship’s captain and engineer for more than 14 hours. Both would be the recipients of an ordinance that prevents them from leaving the country. It is thought that whoever was on the ship knew of the start of the fire.

In addition to the specialized rescue teams, the Sri Lankan Navy and the Indian Coast Guard are currently also mobilized on the spot to deal with any oil spills. But the damage from the fire in the meantime is fully visible. A layer of green film covers the ocean surrounding the ship, while millions of microplastics have contaminated the surrounding beaches and fishing grounds, killing fish, birds and turtles and forcing the government to ban fishing along an 80-foot stretch of coastline. kilometres.

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