Tons of charred plastic pellets from a burning container ship washed ashore near the Sri Lankan capital on Friday as part of an international effort to recover the dragged ship in a ninth day.
Thick black smoke billowed from the Singapore-registered MV X-Press Pearl anchored just outside Colombo port, raising fears that it might shatter while spilling its 278 tonnes of bunker oil.
Navy personnel in hazmat suits were dispatched to clean up millions of plastic pellets mixed with burnt oil and other residue that covered Negombo beach, 40 kilometers north of the capital.
The plastic-covered beach, normally a tourist attraction and known as a fishing center, has been declared off-limits. The smoking container ship could be seen on the horizon.
# photo1 Bulldozers picked up tons of polyethylene pellets from at least eight containers that fell from the ship on Tuesday.
Officials said the ship is known to carry at least 28 containers of pellets used as raw material in the packaging industry.
The fire broke out on May 20 as the ship waited to enter Colombo port.
It also carries 25 tons of nitric acid, an unknown quantity of ethanol and lubricants in its 1,500 containers.
Authorities believe the fire was caused by a nitric acid leak that the crew had known about since May 11, Sri Lanka’s Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA) said.
MEPA chairman Dharshani Lahandapura said the crew could have avoided disaster if they had unloaded the leaking containers or returned them to the port of origin before entering Sri Lankan waters.
Lahandapura said the MEPA is bracing for an oil spill if the X-Press Pearl shatters as monsoon winds have fanned flames along the length of the ship.
She said the ship was carrying 278 tonnes of bunker oil and 50 tonnes of marine diesel when the fire broke out.
# photo2Oil residues and charred containers have already washed up in Negombo.
Sri Lankan Navy Chief Vice Admiral Nishantha Ulugetenne said on Thursday it would take days to put out the blaze, even as the weather improved.
Four Indian ships joined the Sri Lankan Navy in the battle to contain the blaze. Rescue operations are being carried out by the Dutch company SMIT which sent specialized fire tugs.
SMIT, renowned rescue convenience stores, was also involved in extinguishing flames from an oil tanker that caught fire off the east coast of Sri Lanka last September after an engine room explosion that affected killed a crew member.
The New Diamond tanker fire took over a week to die out and left an oil spill 40 kilometers (25 miles) long. Sri Lanka has asked homeowners to pay a $ 17 million cleaning bill.
© 2021 AFP