Sri Lanka’s apex environment body said on Saturday the country was facing its worst marine ecological disaster triggered after a Singapore-flagged cargo ship caught fire near the Colombo beach, fuelling severe environmental concerns. The cargo vessel – MV ‘X-PRESS PEARL’- was carrying a consignment of chemicals and raw materials for cosmetics from Hazira in Gujarat to Colombo Port on May 20 when it caught fire some 9.5 nautical miles away from the port of Colombo.
The firefighting effort on May 21 was assisted by the Indian coastal guard vessels and an aircraft, in addition to the Sri Lanka Navy and Air Force. Apart from the 325 metric tonnes of fuel in its tanks, the vessel was loaded with 1,486 containers carrying about 25 tonnes of hazardous nitric acid.
Darshani Lahandapura, Chairperson of the Marine Environment Pollution Authority (MEPA), said that according to the available information so far this would be the worst marine ecological disaster in the island nation. “With the available information so far, this can be described the worst disaster, she said.
The plastic beads floating in the waters covering the affected coastal area are badly affecting the marine ecology in the respective areas, she said. Lahandapura said the fishing breeding points and mangroves around the Negombo Lagoon, a major tourist attraction, were very sensitive and the resultant pollution could affect them.
She said an explosion was heard from the ship wreck last night. According to a statement issued by the ship’s owners in Singapore, “by 9.45 am Sri Lanka time today, the vessel’s hull remains structurally intact, as do the bunker tanks, and there has been no loss of oil into the port’s waters. The Sri Lankan Navy has also confirmed that there have been no oil sightings since the fire began.
The Sri Lanka Air Force dropped fire dousing material this morning. Authorities say the fire was under control and the possibility of ship’s sinking was less. The ministry of fisheries has assured that there was no reason to fear consuming fish as the fishing in the affected area had been banned from last Sunday.
The fishermen affected by the fishing ban are to be provided livelihood support, the ministry said. MEPA officials said a large number of dead sea turtles, birds and small fish could be seen along the coast.
India on Tuesday dispatched ICG Vaibhav, ICG Dornier and Tug Water Lilly to help the Sri Lankan Navy extinguish the fire on the container ship. India’s specialised pollution response vessel Samudra Prahari will reach on Saturday to augment pollution control efforts, the Colombo Gazette reported on Friday.
All 25 crew members of the ship – of Indian, Chinese, Filipino and Russian nationalities – were rescued on Tuesday after a ‘fire alarm’ dispatch was sent.