Officials reported late today that the joint firefighting efforts were making progress reducing the fire aboard the containership X-Press Pearl. The vessel, which remains anchored nine nautical miles off Sri Lanka, is a total loss and fears remain that it will sink before the fire is extinguished. At the same time, demands are growing for an investigation into the incident and Sri Lanka has already begun to take steps to bring charges against the captain and the ship.
Firefighting tugs have constantly been spraying and misting the vessel along with support from the Sri Lanka Navy and Indian Coast Guard X-Press Feeders operators of the ship reported. A total of nine vessels from Sri Lanka and three from India along with the salvage company have been involved in the firefight and supported with fire retardant chemicals dropped from the air. Overnight, the Indian Coast Guard transferred supplies of dry power and fire equipment to Sri Lanka to assist with the joint effort.
Despite the progress in reducing the fire aboard the vessel, Navy officials from Sri Lanka warned that the fire is likely to burn for days. They however noted that the firefight was now being aided by improving weather conditions with lower winds and seas.
Sri Lanka’s Marine Environment Protection Authority has already commenced an investigation following media reports that the crew had discovered a chemical leak in the containers while the vessel was sailing from the Middle East to India. The MEPA is questioning why the captain anchored off Colombo when he was aware of the danger.
The vessel’s operator issued a statement refuting reports in the media that after discovering the leak the ship was denied entry into ports which could have avoided the disaster. “Reports that the vessel was denied entry into Hazira Port in India and Hamad Port in Qatar are incorrect,” said X-Press Feeders responding to an unconfirmed story in the shipping media. They noted that the ship had stopped in both ports on its itinerary. “Applications had been made to both ports to offload a container that was leaking nitric acid, but the advice given was there were no specialist facilities or expertise immediately available to deal with the leaking acid,” X-Press Feeders reported.
Container and debris on the shore (Sri Lanka Navy)
Officials from Sri Lanka’s MEPA continue to prepare for the potential of an oil spill, although reconnaissance from the Indian Coast Guard denied reports of oil leaking from the containership. The MEPA said that it feared the hull of the X-Press Pearl had been compromised by the fire and that it could break apart if they attempted to tow the ship further out to sea in the current rough waters.
At least eight containers from the load of nearly 1,500 aboard fell into the ocean with at least one already washing ashore. The Sri Lanka Police had warned yesterday that they would take action against looters carrying items off the beach and today reported that eight people have been arrested. Sri Lanka also posted guards on the beach to prevent people from getting in contact with the contents of the containers that fell overboard. They have warned that some of the containers that fell overboard could have been transporting the dangerous chemicals known to be aboard the ship. Manifests show the ship was carrying 25 tons of nitric acid as well as other chemicals used to manufacture cosmetics.
Police guarding the shoreline (Sri Lanka Navy)