A cargo ship with tons of chemicals on board sank near Sri Lanka’s main port, the government said Wednesday, sparking one of the country’s worst-ever marine environmental disasters.
The MV X-Press Pearl, a Singapore-registered vessel, caught fire after an explosion on May 20 while anchored off Sri Lanka’s west coast. The navy said it believes the fire was caused by the chemicals.
Tons of plastic pellets contaminated the country’s fishing waters, prompting the government to suspend fishing along an 80-kilometer stretch of coastline. Hundreds of military troops have been deployed to clean affected beaches, the navy said.
Salvage experts said the ship began to sink on Wednesday after efforts to extinguish the fire over the past two weeks failed, causing containers of blazing chemicals to tumble into the sea.
The operators of the ship, X-Press Feeders, said experts boarded the vessel and attached a tow line, but “efforts to move the ship to deeper waters have failed.”
Navy spokesman Captain Indika de Silva said the navy was getting ready to begin cleaning up an oil spill that occurred after the vessel sank.
Sri Lankan environmentalist Ajantha Perera said 81 containers of dangerous goods and about 400 containers of oil were believed to be aboard the ship and that its sinking could trigger “a terrible environmental disaster.”
The MV X-Press Pearl was headed to Singapore via Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo, after leaving India’s port of Hazira on May 15.