Sri Lanka, facing worst maritime disaster, investigates cargo ship fire

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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – Sri Lankan authorities have launched a criminal investigation into the crew of a cargo ship loaded with toxic chemicals that burned off the coast of the island nation for 12 days, scattering debris. into the ocean and the pollution of the country’s beaches.

Several tons of plastic pellets that were transported on the ship were washed ashore, and the Sri Lanka Marine Environment Protection Authority described the spill as “probably the worst beach pollution in our history.” Security personnel have been hired to comb the country’s beaches for pellets used to make plastic bags, and fishing is discouraged for miles along the coast.

A Sri Lankan Navy spokesman said the fire that broke out aboard the MV X-Press Pearl on 20 May was contained, but thick black smoke was still rising from burnt containers on the deck of the ship on Tuesday. …

The spokesman, Captain Indica de Silva, said there were 1,486 containers on board, many of which contained so-called dangerous goods, including nitric acid, caustic soda, sodium methoxide and methane.

The ship was loaded with 350 tons of oil, as well as heavy and marine fuel. Captain de Silva said it was “too early to talk about an oil spill,” but warned that “there is still a possibility.”

“This is one of the worst maritime disasters in Sri Lanka,” said Dr. Asha de Vos, a marine biologist. “The only thing that saves us is the absence of an oil spill. If that happens, it will be incredibly tragic. “

X-Press Feeders, which operated the vessel, reported that a container on board had leaked nitric acid long before the vessel entered the waters of Sri Lanka, a drop-shaped island near India.

According to X- Press Feeders.

Police interrogated the ship’s crew and sent samples of the contaminated water to laboratories for testing. Of the 25 crew members who were rescued and taken to quarantine facilities, two required treatment for injuries sustained during the evacuation, and one tested positive for Covid-19, according to the ship’s operator.

While authorities are trying to determine the cause of the fire, local residents living on the coast near the capital of Colombo have begun a major cleanup.

“I’ve never seen anything like it before,” said Dinesh Vijayasinghe, 47, a hotel clerk in the coastal city of Negombo. “When I first saw this, about three or four days ago, the beach was covered with these granules. They looked like fish eyes. “

Mr Vijayasinghe said that Sri Lankan security personnel have been collecting as many as 200 bags of plastic pellets every day since the start of the fire.

“However, more and more are arriving ashore,” he said. “We are told not to go to the area. So we stay away. “

Dr. De Vos, a marine biologist, said the amount of plastic found on the island’s west and south coasts is worrying.

Plastic pollution can pose a threat to humans and animals, she said, including endangered species such as turtles that hatch eggs on the beach.

“Granules can absorb and absorb chemicals from the environment,” she said. “This is a problem because when we eat whole fish, we will also be eating these chemicals.”

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