Colombo – Sri Lanka on Thursday announced an investigation into a possible oil spill reported off its west coast, where a container ship is submerged after burning for 13 days. Coast Conservation Minister Nalaka Godahewa said local experts have been asked to examine an approximately 3.6 million square foot oil area where the MV X-Press Pearl had run aground earlier this this month.
“I visited the area by boat yesterday and what we noticed was a thin film of oil that looked like diesel,” Godahewa told reporters in Colombo.
The X-Press Pearl reported an acid leak on board and caught fire just as it was due to enter Colombo port on May 20.
The fire was extinguished after 13 days, but the stern of the vessel touched the bottom of the shallow sea when a tug attempted to move it to deeper water.
The ship’s operator, X-Press Feeders, said inspection of the wreckage found no oil leaks from the ship’s fuel tanks, but the water in the area has been discolored since the container ship was submerged on June 2.
“A gray sheen was observed emanating from the vessel, and water samples are currently being tested,” X-Press Feeders said in a statement. “The discoloration of the sea has been apparent since the ship’s stern was submerged, and the remains of the cargo in the 1,486 containers on board were exposed to the water.”
Sri Lankan authorities are preparing for a possible oil spill from the submerged wreck or some 386 tonnes of fuel oil that are believed to be still in its tanks.
X-Press Feeders has previously deployed representatives from the International Tankers Owners Pollution Federation (ITOPF) and Oil Spill Response (OSR) to monitor any oil spills and help clean up beaches.
Godahewa said five ships, including two Indian Coast Guard vessels equipped to deal with the oil spills, were anchored around the sinking ship, but none reported a leak from the submerged wreckage.
The ship was carrying around 28 tonnes of nitric acid, along with other chemicals and cosmetics, when the fire broke out in May, according to BBC News. Many of the nearly 1,500 sea containers on board fell overboard before the blaze was extinguished earlier this week.
Tons of plastic pellets from the ship have already flooded a 50-mile stretch of beach declared off-limits to residents. Pellets, the raw material used to make plastic shopping bags and other items, were part of the ship’s cargo.
Fishing in the area has also been banned.
Sri Lankan environmentalists last week sued the government and the ship’s operators for allegedly failing to prevent what they called the “worst maritime disaster” in the country’s history.