Fire ravaged ship sinks causing pollution fears in Sri Lanka

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) – A chemical container ship sank for nearly a month on Thursday after a fire outside the Sri Lankan capital, raising concerns over a potential environmental disaster, officials said.

The shipping company said the wreck of the Singapore-flagged X-Press Pearl “is now completely on the seabed at a depth of 21 meters (70 feet).”

A rescue team was on hand to deal with any debris and report any spillage, X-Press Feeders said.

Sri Lankan Marine Environmental Protection Agency chief Darshini Lahandapura also confirmed that the ship had sunk.

She said it was currently unsafe to remove the wreck because of the rough monsoon seas.

“The sea is very violent. We can’t do anything in the tough season, ”she said.

The monsoon season started last month and usually ends in September.

“Until then, the owner of the ship has hired a caretaker company,” she said. “The entire area is looked after by the caretaker company until the owner hires a wreck removal company.”

The fire broke out on the ship on May 20 as it was anchored about 18 kilometers northwest of Colombo, waiting to enter port.

The Sri Lankan Navy believe the fire was caused by their chemical cargo, which contained 25 tons of nitric acid and other chemicals, most of which were destroyed in the fire. But debris, including burnt fiberglass and tons of plastic pellets, has already polluted nearby beaches. There are concerns that spillage of any remaining chemicals and oil from the ship could destroy marine life.

Authorities put out the fire last week, but the ship began to sink and attempts to drag it into deeper waters failed when its stern rested on the ocean floor. The ship remained partially submerged until Thursday.

The government has asked the United Nations and several other countries for help in assessing the damage to the marine environment and coastal areas.

The country has filed a US $ 40 million interim application to X-Press Feeders to cover part of the fire fighting costs.

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