Saturday, 29 January 2022

Sri Lanka facing marine disaster from burning ship

Smoke rises from a fire on board the MV X-Press Pearl container ship off Colombo [Sri Lanka Air Force Media via Reuters]

NEGOMBO (AFP) – Sri Lanka is facing its worst beach pollution crisis as tonnes of plastic waste from a burning

wash ashore, a senior environment official said Saturday.

Fishermen have been banned from an 80-kilometre (50-mile) stretch of coast near the Singapore-registered MV X-Press Pearl as an international firefighting operation went into a 10th day.

“There is smoke and intermittent flames seen from the ship,” navy spokesman Captain Indika de Silva told AFP. “However, the vessel is stable and it is still in anchorage.”

Authorities are more worried about millions of polyethylene pellets washing up on beaches and threatening fish-breeding shallow waters.

The affected seafront is known for its crabs and jumbo prawns as well as its tourist beaches.

“This is probably the worst beach pollution in our history,” said Dharshani Lahandapura, head of Sri Lanka’s Marine Environment and Protection Authority (MEPA).

Thousands of military and security personnel in hazmat suits are cleaning the beaches of plastic waste and other debris from the ship, which caught fire on May 20.

The impact on mangroves, lagoons and marine wildlife in the region was being assessed.

The jobs of thousands of fishermen are at risk, according to authorities, and the MEPA said a possible oil leak would only add to the devastation.

Much of the ship’s cargo, including 25 tonnes of nitric acid, sodium hydroxide, lubricants and other chemicals, appeared to have been destroyed in the fire, officials said.

The X-Press Pearl caught fire as it waited to enter Colombo harbour and remains anchored just outside the port.

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