FactualAn international operation is underway to try to avoid an oil spill, the boat threatening to break and spill its fuel in the Indian Ocean.
A container ship on fire for nine days off Sri Lanka continued to release its cargo of tons of plastic pellets on the coast of the country on Saturday, May 29, while an international operation was launched to try to avoid an oil spill in the Indian Ocean.
The MV X-Press-Pearl, a 186-meter-long ship registered in Singapore, was weakened by the flames and threatens to break in front of the beaches of Colombo, the economic capital of Sri Lanka. The dumping into the ocean of 278 tonnes of bunker fuel and 50 tonnes of marine diesel that it carries, in addition to the fuel in its tank, would cause an environmental disaster.
Sri Lankan authorities have banned fishing in an 80 kilometer long area around the vessel. The fire seemed finally under control according to the authorities on Saturday, but many interventions are still necessary to secure the ship.
“There is still smoke and we can see some flames intermittently, but the ship is now stable”Sri Lankan Navy spokesman Captain Indika de Silva told Agence France Presse (AFP) on Saturday. A military helicopter dropped nearly half a ton of fire retardant chemicals on the ship on Wednesday, to no avail, and the fight against the flames has continued ever since.
Investigation of nitric acid leaks on board
The container ship was on its way to Colombo from the Indian state of Gujarat when the fire broke out 14 kilometers off the coast. It would have taken in a container of nitric acid, Dharshani Lahandapura, chair of the Sri Lanka Marine Environment Protection Authority, said on Friday.
Authorities are investigating the circumstances surrounding the nitric acid leak, which the crew allegedly noticed even before entering Sri Lankan waters. The ship was carrying 25 tons of nitric acid, as well as some quantities of ethanol, among its 1,500 containers.
Located 40 kilometers north of the capital, Negombo, the country’s fishing region and hotspot, is now closed to the public in the face of the risk of an oil spill. The beaches near the disaster are already crumbling under another pollution: millions of plastic granules from the cargo of the ship.
According to the authorities, the ship was carrying in particular twenty-eight containers full of these polyethylene granules, intended for the packaging industry. Cleaning up the beaches polluted by tons of granules mixed with burnt oil and other debris washed up by the sea will be a titanic job. Bulldozers and the Sri Lankan Navy were mobilized to clean up Negombo beach. The army had been deployed on Thursday on the beach to rid it of the debris of a container that ran aground there.
Eight containers fell into the sea following an explosion on board. The police arrested eight people on this beach who were collecting plastics and cosmetics from the ship, in violation of the confinement imposed against the coronavirus which is raging on the island.
“It is probably the most important pollution of beaches in our history”said Mme Lahandapura. Besides the pollution on these tourist beaches, it also poses a serious threat to the shallow waters of this region known in particular for its crabs and giant shrimp. Scientists are also assessing the impact on the region’s mangroves, lagoons and marine life.
In September of last year, the tanker New-Diamond had burned for a whole week off the eastern coast of Sri Lanka after an engine room explosion that claimed the life of a crew member. An oil spill 40 kilometers long followed. Sri Lanka demanded $ 17 million from the owners of the supertanker to pay the cleanup costs.