X-Press Pearl, a container ship anchored near Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo, was engulfed in a fire when an explosion broke out on the ship.
The Sri Lankan Navy previously stated that the ship was carrying 1,486 containers, including 25 tonnes of nitric acid and other chemicals, which were loaded on May 15 at the port of Hazira, India. According to preliminary investigations, the fire was ignited by a chemical reaction amongst the volatile cargo.
The vessel had 25 crew members on board including two Indian seafarers who were the only wounded. The entire crew was evacuated safely and admitted to a hospital in Colombo.
The initial report of the fire was made last Thursday 20 May as the ship was waiting to enter the port of Colombo while in an offshore anchorage about 9.5 nautical miles from the port entrance. The fire was brought under control when an explosion broke out on May 25 and the fire raged further across the ship.
Photos released on May 25 by the Sri Lanka Ports Authority and Air Force show the ship’s cargo engulfed in fire. SMIT sent a salvage team to the site of distress. They were able to board the ship and were successful in carrying out the necessary inspection.
The Navy wrote in a statement on Tuesday, “ Due to the rough seas induced by the current harsh weather, the ship is currently positioned to lean to the right. As a consequence, some of the containers on board have fallen into the sea, while others are suspected to have sunk. As a result, the Navy advises the fishing community to avoid this specific marine area.”
The Indian government has dispatched several Indian ships, including the Indian Coast Guard (ICG) Vaibhav, ICG Dornier, and Tug Water Lily, to manage the fire that has erupted violently as a result of the explosion.
What is more, the danger of a possible oil spill is worrying the authorities.
The Marine Environmental Protection Agency (MEPA) issued an oil spill alert from the ship and advised people to avoid the hazardous and toxic floating crates.
The MEPA has warned that the poisonous substances floating in the water might reach Colombo, Negombo, and the surrounding coastlines. The general people have been urged not to touch or open such boxes if they reach the coast and to immediately notify the Sri Lankan Police or Navy.
Sri Lankan Fisheries Minister Kanchana Wijesekara disclosed that evidence of an oil leak has already been discovered in the area, and the Ministry, in collaboration with MEPA, the Sri Lankan Navy, and the Coast Guard, is cleaning it up and minimizing environmental damage.
The ship was discovered to be sailing under the Singapore flag and had set sail from India's Hazira port on May 15th. The ship's 25 crew members hail from the Philippines, China, India, and Russia.