Sri Lankan authorities announced on Sunday that they would take legal action against the owner of a container ship that has been burning since May 20 in front of Colombo port and which has already caused one of the most serious marine pollution in the country’s history.
Earlier, they also announced an investigation into the manner in which the fire was started on the ship, which was specially transporting 25 tons of nitric acid and about thirty tanks filled with plastic packaging.
For now, most of the pollution comes from millions of polyethylene granules for the packaging industry, which eight of these tanks that fell into the water threw into the sea and onto the beaches.
The pollution affects an area of about 80 km along the coast around Colombo, the area of tourist beaches, shallow fishing areas and the fragile ecosystems of mangroves and lagoons.
Although the fire on the ship is now under control, it has weakened the structure of the 186 m long ship.
“It will take a few more days for the fire to be completely extinguished,” admitted Vice Admiral Nishantha Ulugetenne, considering that there was no longer a danger that the ship would break and release not only its fuel but also its cargo of 278 tons of fuel in the bunker and 50 tons of marine diesel.
The Marine Environment Protection Administration (MEPA), which spoke on Saturday about “probably the most important pollution in our history”, announced on Sunday that it had met with the justice minister to prepare legal action against shipowners and insurance companies.
“We have looked at the details and we will bring those responsible to justice,” MEPA President Dharshani Lahandapura told reporters in Colombo, stressing, however, that the damage assessment will take time.
The container ship MV X-Press Pearl, registered in Singapore, was on its way from Gujarat in India to Colombo when a fire broke out on board on 20 May.
Authorities said last week they believed the fire was caused by a nitric acid leak the crew had known about since May 11th.
– Crew interviewed on Monday –
The 25 crew members, who have already been evacuated, will be questioned on Monday, following the completion of their health quarantine, as part of an investigation opened by MEPA, police said.
“The captain and crew are in quarantine, but health officials have told us we can question them tomorrow,” police spokesman Ajith Rohana told AFP.
“We also sent samples of polluted seawater and burnt debris from the boat for analysis,” he added.
And there is no doubt that the ship will be pulled out of Sri Lankan waters until experts are able to examine it, he added.
Authorities and the ship’s operator also said the fire continued, but was under control.
The owner of the boat, X-Press Feeders, says her hull is intact and that it does not affect the fuel tanks.
The blaze appears to have destroyed most of the cargo, which included 25 tonnes of nitric acid, caustic soda, lubricants and other chemicals, authorities said.