Cargo Ship Disaster in Sri Lanka May Spill Oil Into Colombo Harbor, Authorities Fear

Burning cargo vessel in Sri Lanka.
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Sri Lankan authorities are bracing for a possible oil spill from the submerged wreck or some 386 tons of fuel oil thought to be still in its tanks.

An investigation is underway after the MV X-Press Pearl, a Singapore cargo ship transporting tons of chemicals and plastics, caught fire before it submerged into Sri Lanka’s Colombo Harbor, spilling tons of plastic pellets and possibly oil into the ocean waters, according to published reports. 

Now, Sri Lankan authorities are bracing for a possible oil spill from the submerged wreck or some 386 tons of fuel oil thought to be still in its tanks, CBS News reported. 

Sri Lankan environmentalists called it the “worst marine ecological disaster,” raising fears of the environmental impact, a report said.

Satellite images show dead turtles and beaches covered in the plastic pellets. Fishing in the area was banned, Sky News reported

On Thursday, Coast Conservation Minister Nalaka Godahewa said when he visited the area by boat he noticed a thin film of [diesel] oil, CBS News reported.

Local experts were called in to examine an oil patch, that was estimated to be the size of 3.6 million square feet, where the MV X-Press Pearl ran aground earlier this month, a report said.

X-Press Feeders deployed representatives from the International Tankers Owners Pollution Federation (ITOPF) and Oil Spill Response (OSR) to monitor any oil spill and help with the cleanup of beaches.

Five vessels, including two Indian Coast Guard ships equipped to deal with oil spills, were also deployed, Godahewa said. No leaks from the vessel had been been reported, CBS reported.

On May 20, the cargo ship reported an onboard acid leak and caught on fire as it was about to enter the Colombo harbor, a report said.

The vessel was carrying nearly 1,500 shopping containers that included, 28 tons of nitric acid, along with other chemicals and cosmetics. All the items were destroyed in the fire before it fell into the sea, CBS News reported.

After nearly two weeks, the fire subsided and a tug was used in an attempt was made to move the vessel to deeper waters. In doing so, the vessel’s stern hit the bottom of the shallow sea as it was being moved to deeper waters.

The operator of the vessel, X-Press Feeders, said an inspection of the wreck found no oil leaks from the ship's fuel tanks, but waters in the surrounding area had been discolored since the cargo ship sank on June 2.

They said in a statement that “a grey sheen has been observed emanating from the vessel, and water samples are currently being tested.”

They also acknowledge that there had been a discoloration of the sea since the vessel's stern became submerged, and the remnants of the cargo in the 1,486 containers that were on board were exposed to water.

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