Sri Lanka faces disaster as burning ship spills chemicals on beaches | Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka faces the worst environmental disaster in its history after a cargo ship carrying chemicals caught fire off its coast, dumping microplastics on the country’s pristine beaches and killing marine life.
The fire on the MV X-Press Pearl, a Singapore-registered vessel, broke out on May 20 and has been burning ever since. The Sri Lankan Navy and Indian Coast Guard have been trying to reduce the flames for more than 10 days.
The 25-person crew were evacuated but the firefighting operation was complicated by monsoon winds and the highly flammable and toxic cargo. The ship was carrying 25 tons of nitric acid, sodium hydroxide and other dangerous chemicals as well as 28 containers of raw materials used to make plastic bags. It also had over 300 tonnes of fuel in its tanks.
Although officials said the worst of the fires had been put out, explosions continued to be heard and thick smoke and small flames could be seen from the ship over the weekend, which is anchored at nine miles from the capital, Colombo.
There are fears that the chemical spill has already caused untold damage to Sri Lanka’s coastline, including the popular resorts of Negombo and Kalutara, with beaches covered in a thick layer of microplastics and an oil spill visible in the surrounding ocean. The plastic pellets used to make the plastic bags can be deadly to marine life and dead sea turtles, fish and birds have already started washing up on beaches.
Local people were asked not to touch any of the debris as it could be highly toxic and fishing was prohibited within 50 miles of the scene.
“With the information available to date, it can be described as the worst disaster of my life,” said Dharshani Lahandapura, chairman of the Marine Environment Protection Authority. The MEPA said the chemicals had seeped into the sea and contaminated the water, likely causing ecological damage to coral reefs, lagoons and mangroves that could take decades to repair.
Thousands of navy personnel in protective gear have been deployed in a cleanup operation to remove the thick layer of plastic pollution and chemical waste that has started to cover the coasts, with bulldozers being used to move the waste .
The government has promised an investigation into the disaster and a special police team has been assembled to question the captain and crew. Authorities believe the disaster was caused by a nitric acid leak.