Disasters & Accidents

Sri Lanka braces for marine disaster due to ship gutted by fire

By Aanya Wipulasena

Colombo, June 3 (EFE).- A cargo ship carrying chemicals onboard has finally sunk nearly two weeks after it caught fire off the Sri Lankan coast, sparking worries of the an impending marine disaster on the island.

The ship sank on Wednesday but not before generating potentially toxic slurry waste into the sea, leaving the authorities with more pressing concerns about an oil spill and the possible toxic effects on marine life.

Officials told EFE on Thursday that they were bracing for a possible catastrophic oil spill and extensive marine pollution due to the gutted Singapore-registered X-Press Pearl vessel on fire since May 20.

The vessel, carrying 1,500 containers of nitric acid and other toxic chemicals, was heading from India to the Colombo harbor when it caught fire off Sri Lankan waters.

“We believe that the chemicals have emitted through fumes. They also could have dissolved in seawater,” Dharshani Lahandapura, chairman Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA), told EFE.

Lahandapura said the “manmade” disaster could have a long-term impact on marine life.

The environmental agency has collected water samples from various locations for any toxic contamination due to the chemicals.

Sri Lanka Navy spokesperson Indika de Silva told EFE that there were chances of an oil spill even as they believed that much of the fuel may have burnt by now.

“We have to anticipate an oil slick from a sinking ship,” the navy spokesperson said.

Officials say that the Sri Lankan authorities are not taking any chances and have already taken measures to contain a spill.

These include offshore oil spill containment booms that slow the spread of oil and keep it contained.

The navy on Thursday deployed a nine-member diving team to know underwater details in the area where the ship got gutted.

Rescuers evacuated the 25-member crew of the vessel.

The government has also ordered a probe into the fire. It has banned the captain, the engineer, and the assistant engineer of the ship from leaving the country.

The government also ordered a ban on fishing in the area, fearing toxic effects from the chemicals.

Minister of State for Fisheries Kanchana Wijesekera said Thursday that the department had suspended vessels entering from the Negombo Lagoon and fishing from Panadura to Negombo with an immediate effect after the ship started sinking.

“Emergency preventing measures are taken to protect the lagoon and surrounding areas to contain the damage form any debris or in case of an oil leak. Vessels fishing in around the area and high seas are also informed of possible debris and to be vigilant.”

The minister said the MEPA had formulated a plan for an oil spill.

“Booms and skimmers will be used around the vessel and strategic locations. Spray to be used to disperse oil slick. There are also contingency plans for full beach cleanups,” the minister tweeted.

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