Officials in Sri Lanka reported that the bodies of 48 turtles and eight dolphins have washed up on the country’s western and southern beaches after a Singapore-registered container ship ran aground and burned for weeks.
Many small fish have also washed up on Sri Lanka’s shores.
The cause of the turtles’ and dolphins’ deaths was intense heat and chemical poisoning from the ship, according to a report from AP/AFP on Friday (June 18).
The ship, MV X-Press Pearl, caught fire last month and remained partially submerged in Sri Lankan waters until finally sinking on Thursday (June 17).
Since the mishap, the ship released tonnes of plastic raw materials that ended up strewn on Sri Lanka’s beaches.
The AP/AFP report quotes Sri Lanka’s Environment Ministry Secretary Anil Jasinghe as telling journalists, “To see these images of dead turtles and dolphins is very distressing for our people. The carcasses that washed up soon after the fire had clear signs of burns from the intense heat of the ship.”
According to the secretary, while autopsies are being performed to determine the cause of death, preliminary reports have shown chemical poisoning of the turtles.
A nine-metre blue whale also washed up on the islet of Kayts off the Jaffna Peninsula around 400 km north of Colombo.
The death of the whale is currently under investigation.
The MV X-Press Pearl was carrying more than 80 containers of hazardous chemicals when it caught fire.
On Thursday, the ship’s operator said that the wreck “is now wholly sitting on the seabed at a depth of 21 metres”.
Due to rough monsoon seas, it is likely that the ship will remain where it is for some time, said Ms Darshani Lahandapura, the head of Sri Lanka’s Marine Environment Protection Authority.
Ms Lahandapura said, “The sea is very violent. In the rough season, we can’t do anything.”
She added that until the monsoon season ends in September, the vessel’s owner of the vessel has appointed a caretaker company.
“The entire area will be looked after by the caretaker company until the owner appoints a wreck removal company.”
The vessel operator X-Press Feeders has also stated that for the time being, “caretakers will install navigational warning lights and markers on the wreck for the safety of other vessels”.
A criminal investigation has been launched by Sri Lanka against the ship’s captain, chief engineer and chief officer.
The country is seeking US$40 million (S$53.7 million) in damages from X-Press Feeders, which is also facing a lawsuit from environmental groups.