Earlier this month, the X-Press Pearl, a cargo ship carrying chemicals caught fire off the coast of Sri Lanka. It stood burning off the coast of Sri Lanka for days emitting thick dark smoke that could be spotted from miles away.
The environmental disaster caused by this is likely to cause hazards for decades. The fumes have now blown out and the cargo has been lying off the Sri Lankan coast in a half sunken state with its hull resting on the shallow ocean bed.
Although the flames have died down, the problems caused by this accident have just begun. The ship is still carrying towers of containers piled upon each other, many of them containing chemicals and are highly hazardous to the environment. Some of these chemical substances have leaked into the water and are sparking fear of poisoning the marine life.
In addition to that, the local beaches have been seeing traces of tons of tiny pellets being washed away on shores from the ship. Hundreds of tonnes of engine fuel sealed in the sunken hull also has a possibility of leaking into the waters.
Not only has this caused danger from an environmental perspective but also to the local communities and fisherman who have lost their livelihoods overnight and are likely to suffer for a long time to come.
In a recent interview by the authorities, Denish Rodrigo, a fisherman exclaimed that the fisherman tribe go to the sea daily and can only feed their family by that means.
As a reaction to this incident, Sri Lanka has temporarily banned fishing along a 50 mile stretch of its coast where nitric acid has spilled into the water and plastic pellets have washed up the shore.
The cause of the fire in the cargo is not clear yet but the chair of Sri Lanka’s Marine Environment Protection Authority has told the environmental news site Mongabay that they believe that it happened due to a chemical reaction due to leakage of nitric acid.
The ship left from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, sailed through Malaysia and had stopped in Qatar and India. All 25 members on board have been evacuated.
The ship’s captain, engineer and assistant engineer have been banned from leaving the country by the Sri Lankan police who are currently investigating the matter. According to the government, legal action will be taken against the owners of the ship.
Charitha Pattiaratchi, a professor of oceanography at the University of Western Australia recently reported that the ship contained 78 metric tonnes of plastic called nurdles which is the raw material that is used to make virtually many kinds of plastic products.
Large amounts of plastic pellets and dead fish can be seen on Sarakkuwa beach north of Colombo. They are bound to travel into the river systems like Kelani, lagoons (Negombo) and also into Port city. Transportation by wind and currents is also imminent. These particles are non-biodegradable, thereby increasing risk.