Fire-ravaged cargo ship sinks off Sri Lanka sparking fears of environmental disaster

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – A chemical container ship sank for nearly a month on Thursday after a fire outside the Sri Lankan capital, raising concerns over a potential environmental disaster, officials said.

The shipowner said the wreck of the Singapore-flagged X-Press Pearl “is now entirely on the seabed at a depth of 70 feet”.

A rescue team was on hand to clear any debris and report any spills, X-Press Feeders said.

The head of the Sri Lankan Marine Environment Protection Agency, Darshini Lahandapura, also confirmed that the ship had sunk. She said it was currently unsafe to remove the wreck because of the rough monsoon seas.

“The sea is very violent. There is nothing we can do in the rough season,” she said.

The monsoon season started last month and usually ends in September.

“By then, the owner of the ship has appointed a caretaker company,” Lahandapura said. “The entire area is looked after by the caretaker company until the owner hires a wreck removal company.”

The fire broke out on the ship on May 20 as it was anchored about 9.5 nautical miles northwest of Colombo, waiting to enter the port.

The Sri Lankan Navy believe the fire was caused by their chemical cargo, which contained 25 tons of nitric acid and other chemicals, most of which were destroyed in the fire.

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But debris, including burnt fiberglass and tons of plastic pellets, has already polluted nearby beaches. There are concerns that spillage of any remaining chemicals and oil from the ship could destroy marine life.

Authorities put out the fire last week, but the ship began to sink and attempts to tow it into deeper waters failed when the stern rested on the ocean floor. The ship remained partially submerged until Thursday.

The government has asked the United Nations and several other countries for help in assessing the damage to the marine environment and coastal areas.

The country has filed an interim application for US $ 40 million with X-Press Feeders to cover part of the fire fighting costs.

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