source : BBC
COLOMBO : The X-Press Pearl cargo ship that caught fire off western Sri Lanka has begun to sink, raising alarms over oil and chemical spills that could have potentially devastating impacts on the marine and coastal ecosystem.
The fire broke out on board the Singapore-flagged freighter on May 21, and took more than a week to get under control. Marine salvage crew who boarded the ship for an inspection after the fire found a breach in the stern and immediately recommended that the ship be towed out to deeper waters to minimize any impact. But the charred and stricken vessel began taking on water quickly; the towing operation had only managed to move it half a kilometer (0.3 miles) before the ship began sinking.
- Days after the ill-fated Singapore-flagged X-Press Pearl cargo ship erupted in flames, attempts to tow the vessel toward deep waters to reduce its impact failed as it began to sink off Sri Lanka’s western coast.
- The newly commissioned freighter was carrying 300 metric tons of fuel oil in its tanks, but no oil leaks have been reported as of June 8, according to the Sri Lanka Navy.
- But there’s already fallout from the disaster, with tons of grain-sized plastic pellets from the ship’s cargo washing up on beaches along the island’s western coast, posing a massive cleanup headache.
- Sri Lanka is pursuing compensation from the ship’s owner, while experts say the disaster highlights the need for the country to strengthen its capacity to respond to such incidents.
This latest development has sparked fears that the 300 metric tons of fuel oil in the ship’s tanks could leak. But in their latest inspection, on June 8, Sri Lankan Navy divers did not find any signs of a leak, according to Indika De Silva, the navy spokesman. De Silva told Mongabay that the ship was holding in a stable position, with its stern lodged against the sandy bottom of the seafloor. Its rear section has hit the sea bed while the front remains above water as the sea there is shallow, and only about 21 meters (69 feet) deep.
No signs of oil spill
The X-Press Pearl is brand new, having been completed in February this year and commissioned in March. And while current indications are that its fuel tanks haven’t been breached, the possibility of a leak, especially after the fire that destroyed much of the hull, remains very real.
“The likelihood of an oil spill is high due to any strain or corrosion that may compromise the safety of the fuel tanks,” said Zammath Khaleel, senior program officer of South Asia Cooperative Environment Programme (SACEP), an intergovernmental organization coordinating the oil and chemical pollution contingency plan for South Asia.
“We continuously monitor the ship for any oil leak” said Darshani Lahandapura, chair of Sri Lanka’s Marine Environmental Pollution Authority (MEPA). She told Mongabay that authorities were prepared for a possible oil spill, but that the heavy monsoonal rains and strong winds have turned the seas rough and made operations much harder.