Colombo — Burning for a week since it caught fire last Thursday (May 20), the Singapore-registered vessel X-Press Pearl now poses the threat of a major oil spill along Sri Lanka’s coast.
The container ship anchored outside Colombo harbour carries 278 tonnes of bunker oil and 50 tonnes of marine gasoil.
Due to poor packaging, acid started leaking from the ship, the leakage detected by the crew on the Arabian Sea thousands of kilometres away from Sri Lanka.
On detecting the leak, the ship’s captain contacted two ports – Hazira on the west coast of India and Hamad in Qatar – requesting to offload the containers. The requests were denied and the ship made its way to Sri Lanka.
The 25 crew members on the X-Press Pearl were evacuated on Tuesday (May 25) following an explosion. One has been admitted to the hospital with minor injuries.
Indian coast guard ships have joined a Sri Lankan navy ship and four private tugs spraying water on the X-Press Pearl. Authorities fear that the ship could break up and spew hundreds of tonnes of oil, leading to an oil disaster on Sri Lanka’s beaches.
Sri Lanka’s Marine Environment Protection Authority (Mepa) chairman Dharshani Lahandapura warned that should there be a spill, a large quantity of oil could reach the tourist and fishing region of Negombo, 40 km north of the capital.
She added that the military would be deployed to clean Negombo beach but noted that due to very rough seas and heavy monsoon winds, it is not possible to lay booms around the ship to contain a spill.
She also said that any clearing operation will take a few weeks, if not months. /TISG