Shipwreck Threatens Beaches as Sri Lanka Braces for Oil Spill
Image of the wrecked ship X-PressPearl off the coast of Colombo. (Source: Sri Lanka Air Force/Twitter)

Shipwreck Threatens Beaches as Sri Lanka Braces for Oil Spill

The beaches in southwestern Sri Lanka have golden sand and are fringed by palm trees and coconut groves. The coastline is dotted with hotels. In February and March migrating blue whales pass nearby.

A smoldering shipwreck off the coast and near the capital Colombo threatens that natural ecosystem and the local economy. Authorities are bracing for a potential fuel leak from the ship after the vessel’s stern hit the seabed as it was being towed out to sea, Sri Lanka Navy spokesman Captain Indika de Silva said late Wednesday.

“We are actually getting ready for an oil spill that might come up in a few days,” Captain de Silva said. “We don’t know yet but we are getting ready.”

Shipwreck Threatens Beaches as Sri Lanka Braces for Oil Spill

Leaking oil would add to the damage already caused by the 186-meter long vessel, which first reported smoke from the cargo hold while at Colombo anchorage on May 20, and then a fire on deck the following day.

The Singapore-based ship operator, X-Press Feeders Ltd., is facing criminal charges for pollution caused by the vessel in Sri Lankan waters, the Straits Times reported Tuesday. The ship was carrying 1,486 containers and had 25 tonnes of nitric acid, other chemicals and cosmetics on board, according to the newspaper, which also reported that tiny plastic pellets from the ship had washed up and spread along Sri Lanka’s western coastline.

An external spokesman for X-Press Feeders said the ship’s cargo included polyethylene, a basic plastic polymer used in packaging and household products. Chairman Tim Hartnoll Chairman Tim Hartnoll didn’t immediately respond to an interview request.

The ship’s aft portion is sitting on the seabed at a depth of about 21 meters, and the forward section “continues to settle down slowly,” according to a Thursday statement on the company’s incident website. There are “no reports of oil pollution” at the site of the shipwreck as of 7 a.m. Sri Lankan time, according to the statement.

Shipwreck Threatens Beaches as Sri Lanka Braces for Oil Spill

Fishermen along the coast have been banned from fishing in several areas where the Marine Environmental Protection Authority expects debris from the wreck may spread.

Shipwreck Threatens Beaches as Sri Lanka Braces for Oil Spill

X-Press Pearl was carrying more than 300 tonnes of ship fuel when it caught fire. It is not clear whether the fierce flames that gutted the ship had also consumed the bunker oil.

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