Major environmental disaster expected after fire on foreign vessel: Sri Lankan official

Fireboats battling to extinguish a fire on the Panamanian-registered crude oil tanker New Diamond, some 60 km off Sri Lanka’s eastern coast where a fire was reported inside the engine room. (Photo by Sri Lankan Air Force / AFP). Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

COLOMBO, May 29, 2021, Xinhua. Sri Lanka’s Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA) on Friday said that a major environmental disaster was expected following the burning of the X Press Pearl vessel near the Colombo Port and the impact was being assessed, Xinhua reported.

General Manager of MEPA Terney Pradeep Kumara told Xinhua that several teams from the Sri Lankan navy were on site attempting to douse the flames and most of the debris from the vessel have been washed ashore.

He said debris have been washed ashore along the coastal line from the south to the west and over 1,000 officers were deployed to conduct a clean-up operation, adding that more officials would join in the clean-up efforts in the coming days.

The public have been strongly advised not to touch any of the debris as it could contain hazardous material, he said.

Kumara added that an expert committee has been set up to assess the environmental damage and study a possible oil spill.

State Minister of Urban Development, Coast Conservation, Waste Disposal, and Public Sanitation Nalaka Godahewa told the media on Friday that a large amount of marine life have been killed as a result of the pollution from the X Press Pearl ship.

He said that fish, turtles, and other marine life have been killed and more such loss of life was expected over the next few days.

The Sri Lankan navy on Friday said it was continuing its fire fighting efforts to douse the flames on board the ship which caught fire near the Colombo Port on May 20.

The navy further said there was a threat of the ship sinking on location and all efforts were underway to prevent this. There was no sign of an oil spill yet, the navy said.

The X Press Pearl, registered under the flag of Singapore and carrying 1,486 containers with 25 tons of nitric acid and several other chemicals and cosmetics, departed from the port of Hazira, India on May 15.

The vessel sent out a distress call while being close to the Colombo Port on May 20, and soon caught fire.

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