Sri Lanka is preparing to face the oil spill that could escape at any moment from the cargo ship devastated for 13 days by a fire off the coast of the capital Colombo and which risks causing an unprecedented environmental disaster on an island known as a naturalistic paradise. Failed due to bad weather, rescuers’ attempts to get on board to assess the situation and explore the possibilities of putting it back afloat and moving it further away, the MV X-Press Pearl lay on the bottom on the stern side at 21 meters depth and is monitored on sight by helicopters and naval vessels.
On board are 278 tons of fuel oil, 50 tons of diesel and 20 containers full of lubricating oil. Also on site was an Indian coast guard boat with equipment suitable for containing any spilled fuel. India had already participated in the operations to put out the flames that had begun to spread on 20 May. Partial reassurance came from the commander of the Sri Lankan Port Authority, Nirmal Silva: “Looking at the way the ship burned, the expert opinion is that the oil on board may have run out, but we are preparing for the worst-case scenario, “said Silva, noting however that no oil leaks have been observed in the past 36 hours. And the
But it is not only oil that threatens the extremely delicate marine ecosystem. In the 1,486 containers on board, 81 of which are classified as ‘toxic cargo’, there are also lead ingots, 25 tons of nitric acid, other chemicals and cosmetics. Many have fallen into the sea and the resulting mix, environmental groups argue, would be deadly. Not to mention the tons of plastic packaging microgranules contained in another 28 containers and which have submerged the coasts of the area as well as being dispersed in the water.
For days, the rescue teams have been trying to clean up the hitherto pristine beaches, also in order not to compromise the resumption of post-Covid tourism. Already now “the damage to the marine ecosystem is incalculable”, according to Hemantha Withanage, executive director of the Center for Environmental Justice of Sri Lanka. Fishing is suspended in a radius of 80 kilometers around the ship and the fragile economy of the area is at risk. “The ban affects 4,300 families in my village,” Denzil Fernando, head of the regional fishermen’s union, told AFP. “Most people – he explained – live on one meal a day. How long can we go on like this
Either the government allows us to fish or it has to give us compensation. “Anger is mounting in the country over the permission granted to the MV X-Press Pearl to head towards the port of Colombo while it was already known the loss of nitric acid which then has caused the fire and after being rejected by India and Qatar. And the government has also begun to talk about compensation, which – reports the BBC – has launched a criminal investigation into the disaster. “We will calculate the costs from the beginning of the accident and we will ask for compensation “, Ports Minister Rohitha Abeygunewardene announced at a press conference referring to Singapore, where the ship was registered.

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