Sri Lanka braces for oil spill from sunken ship: Here is what we know

WION Web Team
New DelhiUpdated: Jun 04, 2021, 05:50 PM IST

Image of burning container ship MV Express Pearl taken on May 28, 2021 Photograph:(AFP)

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In case oil leaks from the ship into the sea, it may constitute what has been called the worst such environmental disaster

Sri Lanka is bracing for an oil spill and what can be a major environmental disaster off Colombo coast as burnt-out container ship MV X-Press Pearl remains partially sunk. Foreign experts have been deployed to help Sri Lanka contain a potential oil leak. An Indian coastguard vessel is also in the area with equipment to deal with a possible oil slick.

What is the ship's condition now?

The ship's stern is now on the sea bed and the bow is slowly sinking.

Choppy seas and poor visibility prevented navy divers from checking the hull for a second day Friday, Sri Lanka Navy spokesperson Indika de Silva told AFP.

He said a team reached the sinking vessel and made a cursory inspection on Thursday, but could not carry out their mission because of poor visibility.

Sri Lanka ship fire

Representatives from the International Tankers Owners Pollution Federation (ITOPF) and Oil Spill Response (OSR) were onshore monitoring the MV X-Press Pearl, X-Press Feeders said.

"They continue to coordinate with MEPA (Marine Environment Protection Authority) and the Sri Lankan navy on an established plan to deal with any possible spill of oil and other pollutants," the company said.

Its chief executive, Shmuel Yoskovitz, apologised to Sri Lanka for the disaster, which saw the ship burn for 13 days and inundated the island's beaches with huge amounts of plastic pellets.

"I'd like to express my deep regrets and apologies to the Sri Lankan people for the harm this incident has caused to the livelihood and to the environment of Sri Lanka," Yoskovitz told Channel News Asia.

The ship contains 350 tonnes of fuel oil.

Sri Lanka's Harbour Master Nirmal Silva said on Thursday that no oil had leaked so far.

"Looking at the way the ship burnt, expert opinion is that bunker oil may have burnt out, but we are preparing for the worst-case scenario," Silva said.

The fire on the ship broke out on May 20. Sri Lankan Navy and Indian coastguard battled the flames for over 10 days.

'Worst environmental disaster'

In addition to fuel oil, the ship is containing "dangerous cargo" including acids and lead ingots. The cargo is also releasing microplastic granules into the water and this has already has begun to affect the environment.

Sri Lanka ship fire

In case oil leaks from the ship into the sea, it may constitute what has been called the worst such environmental disaster.

However, experts fear that damage to the environment may already have taken place.

Charitha Pattiaratchi, a professor of coastal oceanography at the University of Western Australia, said the plastic pellets, that are expected to travel as far as Indonesia and Somalia, could act as a breeding ground for bacteria, putting marine life at risk.

Sri Lankan fishermen impacted

Fishermen in Sri Lanka expressed helplessness on Friday as they reconciled with the fishing ban in effect on Sri Lanka's western coast. Fishing activity has been prohibitted along 50 km of Sri Lanka's western coast. The ban has been in effect since May 22.

Sri Lanka Fishermen

"We're told not to go to sea: that has caused a lot of problems," said 67-year-old fisherman Antony Sebastian. He was quoted by Reuters.

"Fishermen are very helpless. We can't do our work because of this ship for more than a week now. We are just hanging around at home."

Nirashan Fernando, a 44-year-old fisherman, said some boats had been able to evade the navy, that has been turning back those still trying to work, but the outlook wasn't good.

"A few of those who went to sea found that the catch has reduced," he said.

(With inputs from agencies)