A container ship with tonnes of chemicals has started sinking off the Sri Lankan coast. Already heaps of plastic pellets have polluted the fishing waters in Sri Lanka and the authorities are viewing this as one of the country’s most appalling marine disasters. Keep reading today’s blog to find out a detailed report about the sinking of MV X-Press Pearl container ship carrying hazardous chemicals.
A bit about the container ship
A Singapore registered ship- MV X-Press Pearl, which had 1,486 containers on board caught fire following an explosion on 20th May. Several of the containers aboard the MV X-Press Pearl consisted of hazardous materials like nitric acid, cosmetics, and several other chemicals. Moreover, the ship also carried 350 metric tons of oil in its tanks. The vessel started its journey from Dubai, UAE, and was on its way to Malaysia. It had stopped in Qatar and India. The ship was last loaded at the Indian port of Hazira on 15th May.
The ship caught fire on 20th May when it was around 18 km northwest of Colombo, waiting to enter the port. According to X-Press Feeder the container ship company, the rear end of the ship has hit the sea bed near the shores of Colombo while the front end is sinking gradually. They added, “Salvors will remain with the vessel to monitor the ship’s condition and oil pollution if any. The immediate focus is to minimize any further damage to the environment.” Following the explosion, the chemical-laden containers were ablaze and started tumbling into the ocean. In course of the next two weeks, the emergency crew was working on containing the flame. Fortunately, all 25 crew members were evacuated.
The present situation of the container ship
The Sri Lankan and Indian navies together tried to contain the fire for nearly two weeks. Moreover, they tried their best to prevent the vessel from breaking up and sinking. Nevertheless, the rough sea condition coupled with the monsoon winds posed a serious obstacle to the operation. Presently, water is submerging the quarterdeck of the cargo ship. According to a spokesperson from the Sri Lankan Navy, they stopped towing the vessel once it touched the bottom of the sea. “Now our concern is about any oil spill. We are closely monitoring this and so far we have not detected any spill. It will be devastating if that happens, but we are taking all precautions,” says Captain De Silva from the Sri Lankan Navy.
One of the worst ecological disasters of the container shipping industry
The fire damaged almost all the cargo and seriously fouled the surrounding waters and a long stretch of Sri Lanka’s shorelines. Already several bags filled with toxic substances are being collected and removed by the naval workers from various locations along the shore. Even now the plastic pellets are washing up on the beach constantly.
Charitha Pattiaratchi, an Oceanography professor at an Australian university says that this event is going to have an extreme ecological impact. According to him, the ship contained 78 MT of plastic called nurdles. Nurdles are the primary raw materials needed for plastic production. This is the reason why an enormous amount of plastic pellets are washing up on the coast. Mr. Pattiaratchi thinks that these non-biodegradable nurdles will be further transported by winds and ocean currents and gravely endanger the marine environment. The Marine Environment Protection Authority of Sri Lanka is currently analyzing the extent of this disaster.
Possibility of an oil spill
Marine expert Dr. Ranatunga is suggesting a possible oil spill in which case the effects will be more disastrous and long-term. To prevent such a disaster the Sri Lankan authorities are taking several precautions and using offshore oil booms. A diving team of nine members is analyzing the condition of the sinking vessel. According to the Harbour Master Captain Silva, the majority of the oil on the ship is already ablaze. In this situation, the chances of an oil spill are considerably slim.
Ongoing investigations about the causes of the fire
Authorities are still not sure regarding the exact cause of the fire. However, Mr Lahandapura, representing the Marine Environment Protection Authority of Sri Lanka is of opinion that the fire was because of a “chemical reaction due to the leakage of nitric acid”. The cargo ship company stated that they are launching a full investigation to find out the cause of the fire. The Sri Lankan police force is presently investigating the causes of the fire while the Captain, Engineer, and Asst. Engineers of the vessel have been told not to leave the country. The Sri Lankan government is also seeking to file lawsuit against the ship owners.
Wrapping it up
The accident of the MV X-Press Pearl will lead to the loss of livelihood of the fishermen communities living in the shores. Already there is a marked reduction in fish consumption due to fears of chemical pollution. Fishing in the affected localities has been banned by the authorities. One of the worst ecological disasters of 2021 has been caused due to the negligence of the container shipping industry. It goes without saying that this industry needs to step up its operations to ensure the safety not only of its crew and cargo but also the environment.