Sri Lanka braces for “environmental catastrophe” after ship sinking

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Sri Lanka on Thursday prepared for a possible “environmental catastrophe” after a container ship carrying chemicals belonging to Singapore sank near Colombo port after a fire broke out.

The US Associated Press said on Thursday that the MVX Press Pearl began sinking on Wednesday, one day after authorities extinguished the 12-day fire.

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It added that the authorities “were unable to tow the ship into the deep waters away from Colombo, the country’s main port, after the stern of the ship sank and settled at the bottom of the sea.”

In turn, the ship’s operator, Express Feders, said that “the fire destroyed most of the ship’s cargo, which included 25 tons of nitric acid and other chemicals,” according to the agency.

But the company noted, “There are concerns that chemicals remaining as well as hundreds of tons of oil in fuel tanks could seep into seawater as they sink.”

The company operating the sunken ship confirmed that “its experts are coordinating with the Sri Lankan Navy to deal with any oil spill or other environmental pollution.”

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“The navy and coast guard are preparing (to confront) an oil spill,” the agency quoted Sri Lankan Navy spokesman Indika De Silva as saying.

With the help of India, it sent three ships to help, one of them specially equipped to deal with marine pollution.”

The agency noted that a disaster such as this could destroy marine life and increase the pollution of beaches in the country.

She added that the government had already banned fishing along 80 kilometers of the coast.

On May 20, a fire broke out in the ship when it was anchored 9.5 nautical miles (18 km) northwest of the capital, Colombo, and was waiting to enter the port.

The Sri Lankan Navy believes that the cause of the fire was a shipment of chemicals that were loaded on board the ship in the Indian port of Hazira on May 15.

Sri Lankan police are still investigating the circumstances of the fire, and the government has said it will take legal action against the ship’s owners to seek compensation, according to the same source.