Sri Lanka is facing one of the worst ecological disasters in the country’s history after a container ship laden with chemicals caught fire 12 days, and inundated Sri Lanka’s western coastline with microplastic plastic pollution. The Sri Lankan Marine Environment and Protection Authority (MEPA) said while the damage from the ship still being calculated, the plastic waste had caused the worst environmental disaster. This is a potential threat to the fishing industry and marine life.
Mudith Katuwawala, coordinator of Sri Lankan environmental group Pearl Protectors, told CNN that the ocean surrounding the ship would be quite toxic. It raised fears for the potential impact on marine life, including several local species of turtles and fish.
“One of the biggest concerns was the millions of plastic pellets that are polluting the waters and washed up on beaches along the coast after an estimated three containers fell into the sea,” Katuwawala said. “The plastic pellets or nurdles are used to make other plastic products and are a big source of ocean plastic pollution. Due to their small size, the pellets can be mistaken for foods to birds, fish and other marine life.”
According to various reports, the Singaporean-registered ship, MS X-Press Pearl, was sailing from India’s Gujarat to Colombo and was just nine nautical miles off the Sri Lankan coast when a fire broke out onboard on May 20. Since then, the Sri Lankan Navy and Indian Coast Guard have been trying to put out the flames and stop the ship from breaking apart or sinking. X-Press Feeders, the operators of the vessel, said it was carrying 1,486 containers when the fire started, 81 of which held dangerous goods, including 25 metric tons of nitric acid.
Kanchana Wijesekera, Sri Lanka’s Minister of Fisheries, last week said if that happens, 350 metric tons of oil could leak into the ocean with the potential to cause widespread ecological damage to marine life affect 30 km of coastline between the capital and Negombo. The Sri Lanka Ports Authority said the vessel’s hull remained structurally intact and no oil or chemical spill has been observed till now. It added that salvors are exploring the possibility of boarding the ship and making a tow connection so it can be moved.
X-Press Feeders, in an update, told the media that there were no visible flames aboard the vessel, though smoke is still issuing from areas in the ship’s aft, referring to the area toward the rear of the vessel. “Firefighting tugs will continue spraying and misting operations to ensure the cooling of all hotspots and the vessel’s hull and hatches, with temperature readings being taken with specialized equipment that has arrived from the Netherlands,” it said.
The ship’s 25-member crew have been evacuated and they are in quarantine at local hotels. “Two crew members sustained leg injuries following an explosion onboard on May 25 and were taken to hospital. One of them later tested positive for COVID-19 and was transferred to a special facility in a military hospital,” X-Press Feeders said.