A burning ship in Sri Lanka: crew testing, environmental damage assessment

The investigation of the crew of the container ship, which has been burning near Colombo for twelve days, causing one of the worst sea pollution in the history of Sri Lanka, began on Monday as part of a criminal investigation.

Police Inspector General Chandan Wickramaratne has ordered the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) to investigate the causes of the fire that broke out on May 20 aboard the MV X-Press Pearl, as well as the colossal damage done to the environment, according to the official.

“25 crew members have completed quarantine and today we are able to interrogate them,” a police spokesman said.

The criminal investigation was opened following a complaint by Sri Lanka, the Marine Environmental Protection Administration (MEPA), police said on Sunday.

According to MEPA, the ship’s captain noticed a nitric acid leak as early as May 11, long before he entered Sri Lankan waters.

The fire broke out on a ship, registered in Singapore, carrying 25 tons of nitric acid, plastic, caustic soda, lubricants and other chemicals, and was supposed to enter the port of Colombo.

The intense fire, which had been at the back of the 186-meter ship since Sunday, destroyed most of the cargo of 1,500 containers, but eight of them fell in the Indian Ocean.

Millions of polyethylene pellets, destined for the packaging industry, have fled and covered Sri Lanka’s beaches, forcing a ban on fishing in the 80km area and raising fears of environmental damage.

MEPA President Dharshani Lahandapura said the environmental damage is still being assessed, but it is the most serious pollution the country has ever seen.

Authorities have decided to sue the ship’s owners and crew and demand compensation from insurers.

The owner of the vessel X-Press Feeders says that the hull is intact and that her fuel tanks are not affected, and she is also afraid of an oil spill.

MV X-Press Pearl, who was only three months old, was on his way from the Indian state of Gujarat to Colombo when the fire broke out.

He had already passed through Qatar and Dubai and after a planned stop in Colombo he had to go to Malaysia and then to Singapore.

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