Colombo, Sri Lanka | Wed, June 2, 2021 | 5:12 pm
The navy stated on Wednesday that a burnt-out cargo ship that had already produced Sri Lanka’s greatest maritime environmental disaster was in imminent risk of sinking because several hundred tonnes of oil remained in its fuel tanks.
The MV X-Press Pearl, which was carrying hundreds of tonnes of chemicals and plastics, burnt for 13 days within sight of the island’s coast before being put out on Tuesday by rescue workers.
The 278 tonnes of bunker oil and 50 tonnes of gas in the Singapore-registered ship’s fuel tanks have already flooded beaches, and authorities now fear an even worse tragedy if they seep into the Indian Ocean.
As tugboats attempted to tow the ship further out to sea on Wednesday, naval spokesperson Indika de Silva said it was “imminently risking sinking.”
The salvage company involved in the operation “has indicated that the vessel is sinking at the current position,” according to Fisheries Minister Kanchana Wijesekera.
The vessel’s stern was underwater, according to an AFP photographer at Sarakkuwa, just north of the Colombo harbor.
Local experts worried the vessel was unstable, according to a local official involved in the mitigation efforts.
“Water was sprayed onto the decks as part of the firefighting attempts. The majority of the water has settled in the stern, which has dropped by around a metre “According to AFP, the official said.
“That water is polluted with oil, so we can’t pump it out.”
Late Tuesday, Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa ordered it to be moved to avoid potential coastal damage.
“The experts’ recommendation was therefore to remove the vessel to the deep waters to minimize any potential damage to the marine ecosystem,” his office stated.
The Sri Lankan navy assisted Dutch salvage company SMIT in establishing a tow connection with their tug in order to transfer the vessel away from the Colombo port’s anchorage, which is roughly 15 kilometers off the coast.
The inundation of microplastic granules from the ship’s containers has already resulted in a fishing restriction and raised concerns about the environment and wildlife.
The ship also had 25 tonnes of nitric acid on board, which leaked and caught fire.
The majority of the almost 1,500 containers onboard were believed to have been destroyed by the fire, according to officials.
The ecological damage is still being examined, according to Dharshani Lahandapura of the Marine Environment Protection Authority, but he believes it is the “worst ever in my lifetime.”
On Monday, President Rajapaksa requested assistance from Australia in assessing the island’s ecological devastation, as it is one of the most biodiverse countries in South Asia.
The fire and marine pollution have prompted a criminal probe in Sri Lanka.
The captain and chief engineer, both Russian nationals, as well as a third officer, have been questioned, according to police.
The passports of all three suspects were ordered to be impounded by a judge on Tuesday.
The ship was on its way to Colombo from Gujarat, India, when the fire broke out. It had earlier visited Qatar and Dubai, where the nitric acid canisters had been loaded.