Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Sri Lanka facing marine crisis from burning ship



Sri Lanka facing marine crisis from burning ship

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Navy personnel remove debris washed ashore from the Singapore-registered container ship MV X-Press Pearl, which is on fire off the coast of Sri Lanka. AFP

Sri Lanka facing marine crisis from burning ship

Sri Lanka faces an unprecedented pollution crisis as waves of plastic waste from a burning container ship hit the coast and threaten to devastate the local environment, a top environment official warned on May 29.

Thousands of navy ratings using mechanical diggers scooped tonnes of tiny plastic granules on the beaches that had come from the Singapore-registered MV X-Press Pearl that has been smouldering on the horizon for 10 days.

Sri Lanka’s Marine Protection Authority (MEPA) said the microplastic pollution could cause years of ecological damage to the Indian Ocean island.

The tiny polyethylene pellets threaten tourism beaches and fish-breeding in shallow waters.

Fishing has been banned along an 80km stretch of coast near the ship that has been burning for 10 days despite an international firefighting operation.

Orange-coloured plastic booms were set up in case oil leaks from the crippled ship reaches the Negombo lagoon that is famed for its crabs and jumbo prawns.

Thousands of small boats were beached at Negombo on May 29 because of the fishing ban.

Naval rating Manjula Dulanjala said his team had almost cleared the beach on May 28 evening, but were shocked to find it covered again the following morning. “This is like the coronavirus. No end in sight. We removed all the plastic yesterday, only to see more of it dumped by the waves overnight,” he said.

The pellets and waste were packed into green and white polythene sacks and taken away by trucks.

An officer leading another team said that in certain parts of the beach the microplastics and charred debris was 60cm deep.

Roman Catholic priest Sujeewa Athukorale said most of his parishioners were fishermen who risked becoming destitute.

“Their immediate need is to be allowed to go back to the sea,” he said. “There are 4,500 fishing families in my parish alone.”

Fisherman Lakshan Fernando, 30, said people feared the plastic waste could destroy mangroves as well as the corals where fish breed in the shallow water.

“No one is able to say how long we will have the adverse effects of this pollution,” Fernando told AFP. “It could take a few years or a few decades, but in the meantime what about our livelihoods?”

An oil leak from the vessel, said to be carrying 278 tonnes of bunker oil and 50 tonnes of gasoil, would increase the risk of 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.

An international salvage operation is led by the Dutch company SMIT, which has sent specialist fire-fighting tugs. India has sent coastguard vessels to help Sri Lanka’s navy.

MOST VIEWED

  • Massive stingrays may live in Mekong’s deep pools

    US scientists have suggested that unexplored deep pools in the Mekong River in an area of Stung Treng could potentially be home to significant populations of giant freshwater stingrays, one of the world’s largest freshwater fish species. This comes as a fisherman hooked a 180

  • CCC team off on US business trip

    The Kingdom’s leading economists and private sector representatives have called on the US to renew its tax preferential status for Cambodian exports, as a Cambodia Chamber of Commerce (CCC) delegation departed for a weeklong business visit to the US, where they will meet with

  • PM takes time to meet, greet Cambodians living in the US

    After landing in the US ahead of the ASEAN-US Special Summit, Prime Minister Hun Sen was received by over 1,000 Cambodian-Americans including political analysts who welcomed him with greetings, fist bumps and selfies. Hun Sen also met with analyst Mak Hoeun, who had allegedly spoken ill

  • Khmer cinema classics back on big screen for free at WB Arena’s outdoor movies series

    On a recent Saturday evening at WB Arena, Bunsong was enjoying a tasty BBQ meal with his family after work on the long tables that had been arranged out in front of the restaurant as they watched a Khmer action movie on a big outdoor

  • PM heads to Washington for ASEAN-US special summit

    Regional and international issues and how to bring the ASEAN-US partnership to another level will be discussed at length as Prime Minister Hun Sen and his ministers arrive in Washington, DC, for a special summit on May 12-13. During the trip, Hun Sen and ASEAN

  • National Assembly refutes EU resolution

    The National Assembly (NA) has hit back at a European Parliament resolution condemning the political and human rights situation in Cambodia, calling it another display of the Parliament’s “double standards”. Key points of the resolution include a warning that the Parliament could exclude the