ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s fisheries ministry has advised fishermen to move away from a blazing container ship near the coast with fears of an oil spill damaging marine life and reaching several fishery harbours on the island’s Western coat.

A fire aboard the container vessel X-Press Pearl which was initially doused, re-ignited on May 25 and has worsened overnight amid strong winds.

“We have asked them to take it to the other way towards the sea but the issue again is there will be more of an oil spillage which we will have to somehow contain, and there will be some damages to marine life from Negombo to Colombo,” State Minister for Fisheries Kanchana Wijesekera told EconomyNext.


Sri Lanka braces for Tier II oil spill from blazing container ship X-press Pearl

The Chairperson of Sri Lanka Marine Environmental Protection Agency Dharshani Lahandapura said preparations are being made for a Tier II oil spill, involving up to 100 metric tonnes. The ship was originally carrying about 300 tonnes of fuel.

“We are planning it to the next level, and we declare it as potential Tier II oil spillage,” she said.

Sri Lanka has readied dispersal chemicals and booms to contain the spills, she said.

Sri Lanka’s fisheries ministry together with the ports authority’s, the Marine Environment Protection Authority, Navy and Army are in discussions over the next steps.

“Now we are in discussion to see how we are going to manage the next step which is the oil spillage and containing the fire.

They are expecting a spill and it will happen so contemplating how to minimize it,” Minister Wijesekera said.

“There are two options; one to drag the ship towards the coast which they say will reduce the spillage and contain the fire better,

“But if it does have explosions and chemicals that will be a problem for the people living in the coastal areas, so we have advised not to drag it to the coast if it affects the people.

There are signs of #oilspill in to the ocean from the X-Press Pearl vessel. Department of #Fisheries is working together with MEPA, Navy, CoastGuard and other authorities to contain and clean up the oil spill to minimize the damage to the #marineenvironment.

— Kanchana Wijesekera (@kanchana_wij) May 25, 2021

Aerial footage postage on Minister Wijesekera’s Twitter feed shows the fire blazing. Sri Lanka Navy said the ship was listing to starboard and the fire was spreading to the quarterdeck which housed the bridge.

He says it’s a risk either way, but they cannot take a risk on human lives.

“We can’t take a risk on human life that’s why we advised taking the vessel as further as possible but they are still in discussion and an expert group from the Netherlands is also working with us.”

Two days ago the fisheries department was notified not to allow anyone to fish close to the coastal areas from Kalutara to Negombo, basically from Panadura to Dikkowita Fishery Harbor because the fire aboard the vessel may release chemicals that may be hazardous to health.

Fishing communities around the areas go fishing every day. Since some containers have chemicals and the fire could emit harmful gases fishermen have been warned not to go near them but report them to the authorities.

“We have been told that since the explosions took place there are about eight containers which have fallen into the sea, so as not to be in contact with the containers or the debris from the vessels.