Sri Lanka ship fire sparks fears of country’s ‘worst marine ecological disaster ever’

The sinking of a fire-damaged container ship loaded with chemicals off Sri Lanka’s coast has triggered the “worst marine ecological disaster” the country has ever seen, a volunteers group has said.

The MV X-Press Pearl began sinking on Wednesday, a day after authorities extinguished a fire that had raged on the vessel for 12 days.

Efforts to tow the boat into deeper waters away from the country’s main port, in the capital Colombo, failed after its stern became submerged and rested on the seabed.

The Singapore-flagged ship’s operators, X-Press Feeders, said the blaze destroyed most of the ship’s cargo – which included 25 tons of nitric acid and other chemicals.

But pictures suggested large quantities of plastic pellets had spilled into the sea and environmental groups fear remaining chemicals and hundreds of tons of oil from the fuel tanks could also escape.

Charith Jayaratna, country manager for The Mighty Roar voluntary organisation, told Sky News the situation was dire.

“This can be defined as the worst marine ecological disaster ever to happen to Sri Lanka,” he said.

“The ship was carrying 78 metric tons of plastic pellets as well as so many chemicals harmful to nature.

“The government has given permission for this ship to come into our sea area. It is a tragedy that [has killed] so much marine life in Sri Lanka.”

He said he had been overseeing a turtle conservation project and had released more than 10,000 baby turtles into the sea.

“It is really sad to see turtles dying on the shore,” he said.

He added the disaster had also killed many other fish and marine creatures, whose bodies had been washing up on the beach.

Mr Jayaratna said Sri Lanka’s environmental authorities and navy, along with members of the public, had been doing a good job cleaning the country’s shores.

“I have been volunteering for seven years and I haven’t seen such a tragedy, such an amount of plastic pellets on the beach,” he said.

“Fishes and marine life eat those plastics, which end their life.

“We have to stop these irresponsible activities of people all over the world.”

The government has already banned fishing along about 50 miles (80km) of coastline.

The ship’s operator said its stern was resting on the seabed about 21m (70ft) below the surface and the bow was “settling down slowly”.

The firm said salvage experts were with the vessel “to monitor the ship’s condition and oil pollution”.

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