A cargo ship carrying tons of harmful chemicals is sinking off the west coast of Sri Lanka in one of the country’s worst maritime disasters, officials have said.
The Singapore-registered MV X-Press Pearl, carrying 1,486 containers including 25 tonnes of nitric acid along with other chemicals and cosmetics, was anchored off the island’s west coast when it caught fire on May 20.
The Navy said last month that officials have been battling the fire since flammable containers loaded with chemicals fell from the deck of the ship.
Experts say tons of plastic pellets have swallowed the island’s coastline and rich fishing grounds, creating the biggest environmental crisis in decades.
“The rescue company involved in X-Press Pearl has indicated that the vessel is sinking in the present condition,” Fisheries Minister Kanchana Wijesekera said in a tweet.
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The government has banned fishing in an 80-km stretch of the beach, affecting 5,600 fishing boats, while hundreds of soldiers have been deployed to clean up the beach.
A rescue team is escorting the ship into deeper waters, Wijesekera said.
The Sri Lankan Navy said last Tuesday (25 May) that rescuers pulled out all the crew from the container last week, injuring two people.
Navy spokesman Indica de Silva said the explosion was reported from inside the vessel, adding that an Air Force helicopter was using dry chemical powder to douse the fire.
The ship had left India’s Hazira port on 15 May and was en route to Singapore via Colombo.
Sri Lankan officials said experts from the Netherlands and Belgium were surveying the ship, while neighboring India had promised to send the ship and an aircraft to help fight the fire.
Sri Lanka’s Shipping Minister Rohita Abegunawardhan said, “A special Dutch flight with critical equipment to douse the fire is now expected to reach Sri Lanka.”
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