For roughly three weeks now, a large cargo ship carrying chemicals and plastic pellets has been burning off the coast of Sri Lanka. The ship, the X-Press Pearl, was known to be carrying around 1,486 containers, with eighty-one of them being dangerous goods containers. Twenty-five tons of nitric acid was reported on-board, and at least one container has begun to leak. There has been many attempts to tow the ship to deeper waters, but the attempts have failed and it is seeming more likely that the boat will sink.
The ship was carrying roughly 350 tons of fuel oil, and many teams in the area have prepared for the event of a toxic oil spill. Sri Lanka’s minister of fisheries, Kanchana Wijesekera, said last week that if there is a spill, booms and skimmers will be used around the vessel and at strategic locations, and spray will be used to disperse the oil slick.
The Associated Press reported that Sri Lankan police are investigating the fire, and a court in Colombo has banned the ship's captain, the engineer and the assistant engineer from leaving the country. The government said it will take legal action against the owners of the ship, according to the wire service. Sri Lanka’s air force also captured some video of the burning ship:
Sri Lanka has temporarily banned fishing along 50-miles of its coast line, where nitric acid has leaked into the water, and plastic pellets have washed up ashore. This is devastating for the lives of fisherman along the coast. "The ship has dealt a death blow to our lives," Joshua Anthony, head of the regions fishing union, told Reuters. "We can't go into the sea which means we can't make a living."
Charitha Pattiaratchi, a professor of oceanography at the University of Western Australia, said the incident will have an “extreme environmental impact.”
Pattiaratchi said that among the ship’s dangerous goods were 78 metric tons of plastic called nurdles. A raw material used to make all kinds of plastic products. Tons of piles of the plastic pellets can already be seen on the shore.
"These have been released to ocean and are found on beaches to the south of Colombo — as time goes they will keep moving southwards as our model predictions show. They will also go into river systems such as Kelani, lagoons (Negombo) and also into Port city. They are transported by the wind and currents — will remain at the surface until beached and will persist in the marine environment for ever as they are not biodegradable," Pattiaratchi wrote on his Facebook page.
It is unclear how the fire started but it is believed that there may have been a chemical reaction. The ship company, X-Press Feeders, said there will be a full investigation into the cause of the fire and its spread once the fire is out. All 25 members of the crew were safely evacuated.
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