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Environmental Emergency Off Colombo’s Coast: Fire on Board MV X-Press Pearl Container Ship

Environmental Emergency Off Colombo’s Coast: Fire on Board MV X-Press Pearl Container Ship

May 28, 2021

Sri Lankan authorities have spent days battling a blaze on a container ship loaded with chemicals hoping to avoid a potential marine environmental disaster. The Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA), Sri Lanka Navy, Sri Lanka Air Force,  National Aquatic Resources Research and Development Agency (NARA), Department of Coast Conservation and the Disaster management Centre (DMC) are trying to avoid a major marine environmental crisis by containing the fire as well as preparing for potential spills.

The container ship MV X-Press Pearl was headed from Gujarat, India to Colombo when a fire broke out on deck, on the 20th of May, around 14 kilometers offshore of Sri Lanka’s coast. The Singapore-registered vessel, which is within sight of the shore, is carrying 25 tonnes of nitric acid as well as other unspecified chemicals and cosmetics. The ship was also holding about 325 metric tons of fuel in its tanks, which is likely to pose the threat of an oil spill.  Adding to this, the fire on board MV X-Press Pearl spread to the quarterdeck where the ship’s bridge is located and has caused a number of containers to have tumbled into the sea. Accordingly, eight of its nearly 1,500 containers fell overboard on Tuesday (25th May), one of which washed ashore at the Negombo beach 40 kilometres north of Colombo.

The 25 crew members evacuated the ship on Tuesday after an explosion, with Two of the crew sustaining leg injuries. Strong winds associated with a cyclone hitting the Indian subcontinent this week have also hampered efforts to put out the blaze, from which a huge cloud of black smoke is rising.

MEPA stated that containment measures were being prepared in case chemicals or fuel oil spilled from the ship’s engine and fuel tanks. Apart from a potential chemical spill there’s a risk of an oil spill of about 100 tons. Moreover, the contents of the ship including micro plastics have already affected the sustenance of marine life.  According to MEPA, Sri Lanka is preparing for a tier II oil spill. This indicates an accident that needs response teams with specialized knowledge to intervene.

Authorities have stated that necessary arrangements have been made with the required equipment and manpower on standby, and that the emergency oil spill management plan is already in place, whilst the required equipment to control the spread of an oil spill is already positioned.

Photo Credits: Online Sources

MV X-Press Pearl Ablaze
Authorities lead by the tri forces attempt to douse the fire
Debri washed ashore following the explosion on MV X-Press Pearl Container Ship
Sri Lanka Forces and relevant authorities in action
Several containers were washed ashore
Maj. Gen, Sudantha Ransinghe, DG, DMC, at the emergency site