Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Sri Lanka faces marine disaster as ship fire put out

Sri Lanka faces marine disaster as ship fire put out

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Smoke billows from the MV X-Press Pearl off the coast of Sri Lanka on Monday. AFP

Sri Lanka faces marine disaster as ship fire put out

A fire aboard a ship that triggered Sri Lanka’s worst-ever marine ecological disaster was finally extinguished on June 1 after a 13-day international operation, the navy said.

The near two-week inferno prompted a mammoth clean-up operation as huge volumes of microplastic granules from the Singapore-registered ship’s containers inundated 80km of beach.

The unprecedented pollution forced a fishing ban and saw thousands of troops deployed to scoop tonnes of burnt plastic from beaches.

Experts from Dutch salvage company Smit boarded the MV X-Press Pearl on June 1 and reported massive flooding of the engine rooms.

Sri Lankan navy divers were also deployed to examine the hull below the waterline to check for any cracks, officials said.

The fire was first reported on May 20 as the 186m long container carrier was about to enter Colombo port.

The blaze was initially contained, but strong monsoon winds fanned the fire, forcing the crew to evacuate on May 25.

Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa ordered officials to move the vessel from its anchorage near the port and move it to deeper waters in a bid to minimise further coastal damage, his office said.

Sri Lankan authorities fear an even greater disaster should the 278 tonnes of bunker oil and 50 tonnes of gasoil in the ship’s fuel tanks leak into the Indian Ocean.

Sri Lanka’s navy was joined by India’s coastguard and tugs brought in by Smit to battle the flames, which destroyed most of the nearly 1,500 containers onboard.

The three-month-old ship had 25 tonnes of nitric acid and other chemicals as well as 28 containers of plastic raw material onboard, much of which fell into the sea.

Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA) chief Dharshani Lahandapura said they were still assessing the ecological damage, but believed it was the “worst ever in my lifetime”.

President Rajapaksa asked Australia on May 31 to help with assessing the ecological damage to the island, one of the most bio-diverse countries in South Asia, his office said.

MEPA chairman Lahandapura said the crew apparently knew of a nitric acid leak on May 11, long before the vessel entered Sri Lankan water en route to Malaysia and Singapore.

Sri Lanka on May 31 launched a criminal investigation into the fire and the marine pollution.

Police spokesman Ajith Rohana said the captain and chief engineer, both Russian nationals, had been questioned for 14 hours since May 31.

The third officer, an Indian national, was also questioned at length, he said, adding that a court had ordered on June 1 to impound the passports of all three pending investigations.

The ship was heading to Colombo from Gujarat, India when the blaze started, having previously visited Qatar and Dubai where the containers of nitric acid had been loaded.

Sri Lankan authorities suspect a leak of that acid triggered the fire.


  • Prince Norodom Ranariddh passes away at 77

    Prince Norodom Ranariddh, the second son of the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk and former First Prime Minister of Cambodia, has passed away in France at the age of 77. “Samdech Krom Preah Norodom Ranariddh has passed away this morning in France just after 9am Paris-time,”

  • General’s gun smuggling ring busted

    The Military Police sent six military officers to court on November 22 to face prosecution for possession of 105 illegal rifles and arms smuggling, while investigators say they are still hunting down additional accomplices. Sao Sokha, deputy commander of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces and commander of

  • Cambodia, Thailand to discuss border reopening

    Cambodian authorities from provinces along the Cambodia-Thailand border will meet with Thai counterparts to discuss reopening border checkpoints to facilitate travel, transfer of products and cross-border trade between the two countries. Banteay Meanchey provincial deputy governor Ly Sary said on November 22 that the provincial administration

  • More Cambodians studying in US

    The number of Cambodian students studying at US colleges and universities in 2020-21 increased by 14.3 per cent over the previous year despite the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a recent US government report. The 2021 Open Doors report on International Educational Exchange showed that 848 Cambodian students studied

  • Rise in planned flights lifts travel hopes

    Six airlines have applied to resume flights in December, while two others have put in for additional flights and routes, according to State Secretariat of Civil Aviation (SSCA) head Mao Havannall on November 29. These account for 43 new weekly domestic and international flights in December, up 16

  • PM: Do not defile Tonle Sap swamp forest or else

    Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered police to arrest anyone – including government officials – involved with the deforestation of the flooded forests surrounding the Tonle Sap Lake because it is an area important to the spawning of many species of fish, among other reasons. Speaking in a