Sri Lanka to sue Singapore ship owners over marine pollution



A fire onboard a cargo vessel off Sri Lanka's coast continued to rage for the 11th straight day on Tuesday, causing what could be the region's worst marine pollution in history.

In a statement, the cargo ship's operator, X-Press Feeders, said an inspection team had managed to board the ship on Tuesday after dousing the fire and found the engine room had flooded. Our divers are yet to obtain clearance to check if there is any leak.

Since May 20, the Sri Lanka Navy and Indian Coast Guard have been working around the clock to try to stop that from happening as the blaze engulfed the container ship, which was laden with chemicals such as nitric acid and carrying 350 tonnes of oil in its tanks.

The ship was heading to Colombo from Gujarat, India, when the blaze started, having previously visited Qatar and Dubai where the containers of 25 tonnes of nitric acid were loaded.

A fire broke out aboard the MV X-Press Pearl, which was carrying 25 tonnes of nitric acid and a huge amount of plastic raw materials, as it was about to enter Colombo harbour on May 20.

Authorities fear a bigger disaster if the oil leaks into the ocean and nearby lagoons before the vessel can be towed away.

Smoke billows from the Singapore-registered container ship X-Press Pearl on Wednesday.

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Fisheries minister Kanchana Wijesekera tweeted that the salvage company involved in the operation "has indicated that the vessel is sinking at the current location".

Sri Lankan navy soldiers, clad in protective suits, have been brought in to remove the debris from the ship that has washed ashore on beaches.

Marine Environment Protection Authority chief Dharshani Lahandapura said the ecological damage is still being assessed, but he believed it was the "worst ever in my lifetime".

Fishermen have been banned from the 80-kilometre (50-mile) stretch of coast, where tonnes of plastic pellets have washed up, sparking a massive clean-up effort. Powerful explosions rocked the ship, forcing the evacuation of its crew.

Pattiaratchi says that among the ship's risky goods were 78 metric tons of plastic called nurdles - the raw material used to make virtually all kinds of plastic products.

As of 1100 Hours on May 31, 2021, Sri Lankan time, the salvors confirmed that the vessel's hull remains structurally intact, and there has been no loss of oil into the port's waters.

"The captain and the crew were in quarantine, but health authorities have told us that we can question them from tomorrow", Ajith Rohana, a police spokesperson, said. In that case, they suggested, the best course of action would be to take the ship to the deep sea to minimize possible damage to the marine environment.

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