The container ship X-press Pearl caught fire off the coast of Sri Lanka on the 20th of May. There were 1,486 containers on board when the fire started, of which 81 were reported as Dangerous Goods Containers, including 25 tonnes of nitric acid.
The crew had found that a container was leaking nitric acid yet were denied permission to offload this container when docking in the ports of Hazira (India) and Hamad (Qatar). Port authorities advised that they did not have the necessary facilities to deal with the leaking container. The vessel thus continued on to Sri Lanka where the fire onboard broke out off the coast of Colombo
The vessel was also carrying 297 tonnes of Heavy Fuel Oil and 51 tonnes of Marine Fuel Oil.
Sri Lanka’s Marine Protection Authority (MEPA) said the plastic waste from the burning ship had probably caused “the worst beach pollution in our history”, and warned it could cause years of ecological damage.
Sri Lankan authorities have instituted a criminal probe into the incident. The fire onboard has now been burning for 11 days. A report from maritime insurer Gard last November warned a fire involving containerised cargo now happens once every two weeks on average.
At least 4,500 fishermen have been affected by the incident as fishing has been banned from the 80-kilometre stretch of coast where the pellets have washed up. The incident is likely to affect fishers for some time as demand for local seafood will be dampened due to contamination fears. The local tourism industry will also suffer longer term loss of revenue.
Arabelle Bentley of the KIMO International Secretariat said,
As always with maritime disasters close to shore, it is the local communities who suffer the most. The environmental damage lasts longer than the media spotlight. The brunt of the economic fallout is disproportionately borne by local businesses. Ultimately local authorities continue to bear responsibility for cleanup years after such incidents take place. KIMO continues to campaign for improved shipping safety and compliance monitoring to protect local communities from further incidents of this kind.