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Fire on vessel off Sri Lanka’s coast rages for 11th day raising fears of major ecological impact

Despite relief efforts, the vessel is likely to sink and authorities are preparing for a major oil spill. The Colombo Gazette newspaper reported the ship was "unstable" and "expected to sink".

By: Express Web Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: June 1, 2021 11:20:42 am
Smoke rises from the container vessel MV X-Press Pearl engulfed in flames off Colombo port, Sri Lanka, Tuesday, May 25, 2021. (Sri Lanka Air Force via AP)

A fire onboard a cargo vessel off Sri Lanka’s coast continued to rage for the 11th straight day on Tuesday, causing what could be the region’s worst marine pollution in history. The fire on MV X-Press Pearl, a Singapore-registered ship which is anchored near the Colombo beach, broke out on May 20 and intensified four days later after an explosion.

According to news agency PTI, the vessel, carrying chemicals and raw materials for cosmetics, had travelled from Gujarat’s Hazira port to the Port of Colombo. The ship had over 300 metric tonnes of fuel in its tanks, and was loaded with 1,486 containers carrying about 25 tonnes of hazardous nitric acid. The blaze has reportedly destroyed most of the cargo on board.

Sri Lankan navy soldiers clad in protective suits attempt to evade a wave drifting debris ashore from the burning Singaporean ship MV X-Press Pearl which is anchored off Colombo port at Kapungoda, out skirts of Colombo, Sri Lanka, Thursday, May 27, 2021. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

Along with columns of fumes going up into the sky, the incident has also led to tonnes of fuel and micro plastics spilling into the Indian Ocean and killing its marine life, Guardian reported.

The Sri Lankan Navy and the Indian Coast Guard (ICG) have been working to stamp out the fire. Five tugboats are fire fighting, aided by a Sri Lankan navy ship. From the Indian side, two ships and an ICG aircraft have been deployed to bring the fire under control. All crew members have been evacuated.

Colombo: ICG ships Vajra and Vaibhav engaged in dousing the flames at the container vessel MV X-Press Pearl engulfed in flames off Colombo port, Sri Lanka. (PTI Photo)

Aerial pictures released by Sri Lanka’s air force on May 25 showed the ship engulfed in flames and thick smoke. The presence of high winds have been intensifying and spreading the blaze, Sri Lankan navy spokesman Indika de Silva told The Associated Press.

Despite relief efforts, the vessel is likely to sink and authorities are preparing for a major oil spill. The Colombo Gazette newspaper reported the ship was “unstable” and “expected to sink”.

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