Damaged ship containing hundreds of tonnes of oil at risk of sinking off Sri Lanka
Environmental experts have sounded the alarm as a burning ship risks causing a catastrophic oil spill.
A cargo ship off the coast of Sri Lanka is sinking amid fears its contents could spill into the sea and cause an environmental disaster.
Singapore-registered X-Press Pearl, which carries 278 tonnes of oil and another 50 tonnes of diesel, has been on fire for weeks.
Tons of small plastic pellets that were on board the X-Press Pearl have already overflowed, inundating 80 km of coastline along the west coast of Sri Lanka.
The Sri Lankan Navy is now attempting to tow the doomed vessel further offshore to lessen the impact of its inevitable demise.
“Rescuers are trying to tow the ship on the high seas before it sinks to minimize marine pollution, but the rear area of the ship has drifted,” Sri Lankan Navy spokesman Captain Indika Silva said via the BBC.
Images released by the Navy show a helicopter circling the smoldering mess, with the X-Press Pearl barely afloat while blasting smoke across the sky.
Environmentalist Dr Ajantha Perera has sounded the alarm with the ship’s toxic cargo poised to wreak havoc in its surroundings.
“This is the worst environmental scenario,” she said. “With all the dangerous goods, nitric acid and all these other things, and the oil in the ship, if it sinks, it will basically destroy the entire seabed.”
“The vessel faces an imminent risk of sinking,” Navy spokeswoman Indika de Silva said hours after Dutch salvage company SMIT attempted to tow the vessel further offshore.
An AFP photographer in Sarakkuwa, just north of the capital Colombo, said the ship’s stern was underwater.
Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had ordered the crippled transporter to be moved to deeper water to avoid an oil spill near the country’s west coast.
Fisheries Minister Kanchana Wijesekera tweeted: “The salvage company involved in #XPressPearl reported that the vessel was sinking at the current location. ”
Emergency measures were in place to protect the nearby Negombo lagoon and surrounding areas to contain damage from debris or in the event of an oil spill, he added.
Criminal investigation into the X-Press Pearl fire launched
A marine ecological disaster has already occurred with tons of small plastic pellets the ship was carrying spilling into the sea and washing up along the coast of Sri Lanka.
Should an oil spill occur, it is feared that it will aggravate the problem.
A first fire broke out on board the ship on May 20 as it was preparing to enter Colombo port. The blaze was finally extinguished on Tuesday after a 13-day international effort aided by the Indian Coast Guard and SMIT.
Sri Lanka has launched a criminal investigation into the fire and pollution, with the three main crew members being asked to stay on the island until the investigations are completed.
– with AFP