A cargo ship sitting off the coast of Sri Lanka is sinking, with officials worried its contents could spill into the sea and cause an environmental disaster.
The Singapore-registered X-Press Pearl, which is carrying 278 tonnes of oil and another 50 tonnes of gas oil, has reportedly been on fire for weeks.
Tonnes of small plastic granules that were aboard the X-Press Pearl have already spilled out, inundating 80km of coastline along Sri Lanka’s western seaboard.
The Sri Lankan navy is now attempting to tow the doomed vessel further out to sea to reduce the impact of its inevitable demise.
“Salvors are trying to tow the ship to deep sea before it sinks to minimise the marine pollution, but the rear area of the ship has drifted,” Sri Lanka navy spokesman Captain Indika Silva said via the BBC.
Footage released by the navy shows a helicopter circling the smouldering mess, with the X-Press Pearl barely staying afloat while billowing smoke into the sky.
Environmentalist Dr Ajantha Perera sounded warning bells with the ship’s toxic cargo poised to wreak havoc on its surroundings.
“This is the worst environmental scenario,” she said. “With all the dangerous goods, the nitric acid and all these other things, and the oil in the ship, if it’s sinking it will basically destroy the whole bottom of the sea.”
“The ship is facing an imminent risk of going down,” navy spokesman Indika de Silva said hours after the Dutch Salvage firm SMIT attempted to tow the vessel further out to sea.
An AFP photographer at Sarakkuwa, just north of the capital Colombo, said the vessel’s stern was underwater.
Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had ordered the crippled carrier to be moved into deeper waters to prevent an oil spill near the country’s west coast.
Fisheries Minister Kanchana Wijesekera tweeted: “The salvage company involved in #XPressPearl has indicated that the vessel is sinking at the current location.”
Emergency measures were in place to protect the nearby Negombo lagoon and surrounding areas to contain the damage form any debris or in case of an oil leak, he added.
Criminal investigation into X-Press Pearl fire launched
A marine ecological disaster has already occurred with tonnes of small plastic granules which the ship was carrying spilling into the sea and washing up along Sri Lanka’s coastline.
Should an oil spill occur, it is feared it would compound the problem.
A fire first broke out on board the ship on May 20 as it was about to enter the Colombo harbour. The fire was finally put out on Tuesday after a 13-day international effort helped by India’s coastguard and SMIT.
Sri Lanka has launched a criminal investigation into the fire and the pollution with the three senior most crewmen asked to remain in the island till investigations are completed.
– with AFP