A cargo ship has started to sink off the coast of Sri Lanka this week, heightening fears that it will spill oil and other chemicals that could exacerbate one of the worst environmental disasters of the country’s history.
What is Happening?
- The cargo ship is laden with chemicals such as nitric acid and is carrying 350 metric tons of oil in its tanks. Since May 20, the Sri Lanka Navy and Indian Coast Guard have been working to stop the ship from sinking after it caught fire. It was travelling from India’s Gujarat to Colombo.
- The sinking of the ship is due to a water leak at the back of the ship from hitting the sea bottom off the coast of Colombo, according to the operator of the Singaporean-registered ship, X-Press Feeders. It said in a statement that, “Salvors will remain with the vessel to monitor the ship’s condition and oil pollution, if any. The immediate focus is to minimise any further damage to the environment.”
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Fears of Ecological Disaster
- Authorities are fearful of a bigger disaster if the oil leaks into the ocean and nearby lagoons, threatening marine life and birds.
- The Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA) of Sri Lanka has warned that the ship, the X-Press Pearl, could create an oil spill emergency. It expects that pristine beaches along a 30 km stretch of coastline from the tourist spot of Negombo to Dikowita to be hit.
- The fire prompted a large-scale clean-up operation along Sri Lanka’s western coast, as millions of plastic pellets littered beaches near Colombo. Environmentalists are concerned that marine life could be threatened by the chemical pollution and small pellets, which can be mistaken for food to birds, fish and other marine wildlife.
- Sri Lankan authorities have launched criminal and civil probes into how the fire started.
Featured image by: BBC