MV X-Press Pearl burnt for 13 days, inundating the island’s beaches with plastic pellets, causing environmentalists to fear an oil spill could cause even greater degradation to fragile marine life.

Smoke rises from a fire onboard the MV X-Press Pearl vessel as it sinks while being towed into deep sea off the Colombo Harbour, in Sri Lanka June 2, 2021.
Smoke rises from a fire onboard the MV X-Press Pearl vessel as it sinks while being towed into deep sea off the Colombo Harbour, in Sri Lanka June 2, 2021. (Reuters)

Foreign experts have been deployed to help Sri Lanka contain a potential oil leak from a burnt-out container ship partially sunk off Colombo.

Representatives from the International Tankers Owners Pollution Federation (ITOPF) and Oil Spill Response (OSR) were onshore to monitor the MV X-Press Pearl, the ship's operator X-Press Feeders said on Friday.

"They continue to coordinate with MEPA (Marine Environment Protection Authority) and the Sri Lankan navy on an established plan to deal with any possible spill of oil and other pollutants," the company said.

Its chief executive, Shmuel Yoskovitz, apologised to Sri Lanka for the disaster, which saw the ship burn for 13 days and inundated the island's beaches with huge amounts of plastic pellets.

READ MORE: Chemical-laden cargo ship begins to sink off Sri Lanka following blaze

"I'd like to express my deep regrets and apologies to the Sri Lankan people for the harm this incident has caused to the livelihood and to the environment of Sri Lanka," Yoskovitz told Channel News Asia.

With the ship's stern now on the sea bed and the bow slowly sinking, environmentalists fear an oil leak could cause even greater degradation to marine life.

Sri Lankan Navy soldiers work to remove debris washed ashore from the Singapore-registered container ship MV X-Press Pearl, which has been burning for the ninth consecutive day in the sea off Sri Lanka's Colombo Harbour, on a beach in Colombo on May 28, 2021.
Sri Lankan Navy soldiers work to remove debris washed ashore from the Singapore-registered container ship MV X-Press Pearl, which has been burning for the ninth consecutive day in the sea off Sri Lanka's Colombo Harbour, on a beach in Colombo on May 28, 2021. (AFP)

Choppy seas and poor visibility prevented navy divers from checking the hull for a second day on Friday, Sri Lanka navy spokesperson Indika de Silva told AFP.

He said a team reached the sinking vessel and made a cursory inspection on Thursday, but could not carry out their mission because of poor visibility.

Meanwhile, the MEPA has placed oil dispersants and skimmers should the vessel leak its 350 tonnes of fuel oil on board.

An Indian coastguard vessel in the area has equipment to deal with any oil slick, according to the Sri Lankan navy, which has requested assistance with the operation.

READ MORE: Sri Lanka faces 'worst beach pollution in history' as ship burns

Sri Lanka's Harbour Master Nirmal Silva said Thursday that no oil had leaked so far.

"Looking at the way the ship burnt, expert opinion is that bunker oil may have burnt out, but we are preparing for the worst-case scenario," Silva said.

The vessel was carrying 81 containers of "dangerous cargo" including acids and lead ingots.

Sri Lankan navy soldiers carry a sack of polythene pellets that washed ashore from burning ship MV X-Press Pearl anchored off Colombo port at Kapungoda, out skirts of Colombo, Sri Lanka, Monday, May 31, 2021.
Sri Lankan navy soldiers carry a sack of polythene pellets that washed ashore from burning ship MV X-Press Pearl anchored off Colombo port at Kapungoda, out skirts of Colombo, Sri Lanka, Monday, May 31, 2021. (AP)

The escape of microplastic granules from the ship's cargo has already forced a fishing ban and prompted concern for the marine environment as well as the local economy.

Sri Lankan authorities believe the fire was caused by a nitric acid leak which the crew apparently knew about nine days before the blaze started.

Police said three officers from the ship – two Russians and an Indian – had been questioned and their passports impounded.

The Singapore-registered ship was heading to Colombo from India. Its 25 crew members were evacuated last week. Two suffered minor injuries.

READ MORE: Sri Lanka questions crew of cargo ship that caused massive pollution crisis

Source: AFP