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Sri Lanka: Fears of disaster due to the sinking of a chemical cargo ship affected by fire. environmental news

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A ship carrying tons of chemicals is sinking, the government and navy say, in one of the island nation’s worst maritime disasters.

A cargo ship carrying tons of chemicals is sinking off Sri Lanka’s west coast, the country’s government and navy said, in one of Sri Lanka’s worst maritime disasters.

Officials said on Wednesday that rescue experts were trying to get the fire-soaked container ship into the deep sea as the ship began sinking off Sri Lanka’s main port.

MV X-Press Pearl, registered in Singapore, was carrying 1,486 containers, including 25 tonnes of nitric acid, along with other chemicals and cosmetics, loaded at India’s Hazira port on May 15.

Smoke rises from a fire on board the MV X-Press Pearl ship at sea near Colombo Harbor [Sri Lanka Air Force Media/Handout via Reuters]

The ship was anchored off the west coast of the island when it caught fire on 20 May, when the ship was anchored about 9.5 nautical miles (18 km) northwest of Colombo and waiting to enter the harbour. Had been.

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.

Water submerged in the quarterdeck of the MV X-Press Pearl on Wednesday, a day after firefighters put the blaze under control for 12 days.

Sri Lankan Navy spokesman Captain Indica de Silva told Al Jazeera that the rear of the ship had sunk and they had stopped it.

“The ship is now resting at the bottom of the sea floor. There is no more towing. We have stopped trying to get it out of Sri Lankan waters.”

“Now our concern is about any oil spill. We are monitoring it closely and so far we have not found any spill. If it happens it will be disastrous, but we are taking all precautions.”

Smoke rises from a fire on board the MV X-Press Pearl ship at sea near Colombo Harbor [Sri Lanka Air Force Media/Handout via Reuters]

The Navy believes the fire was caused by chemicals being transported on board the Singapore-flagged ship.

Sri Lankan police are investigating the fire and a Colombo court on Tuesday banned the captain, engineer and assistant engineer from leaving the country.

The ship’s 25-man crew was rescued after an explosion last week. These include Philippine, Chinese, Indian and Russian citizens.

The fire destroyed most of the ship’s cargo and polluted the surrounding waters and destroyed a long stretch of the island nation’s famous beaches.

Members of the Sri Lankan Navy remove washed-up debris from a ship that caught fire off Colombo Harbor, at a beach in Ja-Ela, Sri Lanka [Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters]

Experts say tons of plastic pellets have swallowed the island’s coastline and rich fishing grounds, creating the biggest environmental crisis in decades.

Sri Lanka’s Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA) chairman Dharashani Lahandapura called it a “man-made disaster”.

“It is an unfortunate incident for Sri Lanka. This has negatively affected the country in many ways. What we are doing right now is minimizing the negative impact,” he told Al Jazeera.

Lahandpura said most of the chemicals were “highly reactive” and emitted through smoke and gases. “Some even dissolved in sea water,” he said. “There were no signs of an oil leak.”

Meanwhile, the government has banned fishing on 80 km (50 mi) of coastline, affecting 5,600 fishing boats, while hundreds of troops have been deployed to clean up the beach.

Al Jazeera’s Minelle Fernandez said on Tuesday that “the beaches themselves are a sorry sight to behold”.

“Walking along some of these beaches in this vast stretch that has been impacted, all you see is a blanket of white and black – they are mixed with microplastic pellets, charred remains and dozens of kilometers of debris material. As far as the eye can see, ”she said.

Ananya Vipulasena contributed to this report from Colombo, Sri Lanka

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