Sri Lankan authorities fought on Wednesday to extinguish a week-long fire on a distressed chemical-laden container ship to avert a possible marine environmental disaster.
The Singapore-registered vessel, within sight of shore, is carrying 25 tons of nitric acid along with other unspecified chemicals and cosmetics, the Navy said.
Eight of its nearly 1,500 containers fell overboard on Tuesday, one of which ran aground on the touristy beach of Negombo 40 kilometers north of Colombo.
Strong winds associated with a cyclone hitting eastern India hampered efforts to extinguish the blaze as a huge cloud of black smoke rose from the MV X-Press Pearl.
The Sri Lankan Air Force used helicopters to drop about 425 kilograms (935 pounds) of flame retardant chemicals onto the ship on Wednesday.
Dharshani Lahandapura of the Marine Environment Protection Authority said containment measures were being prepared in case chemicals or fuel oil were spilled from the ship’s engine and fuel tanks.
“Computer modeling has shown that any spill from the ship will reach Negombo beach and we are ready to deal with it,” Lahandapura told reporters in Colombo.
“Given the pattern of the monsoon winds, we are focusing on this area and moving equipment to deal with a spill,” she said.
Navy spokesman Captain Indika de Silva said all 25 of the crew were safely evacuated, but one was hospitalized with minor injuries.
# photo1 The container ship was on its way to Colombo from Gujarat in India when the fire broke out on the bridge on May 20 about 14 kilometers (7.5 nautical miles) offshore.
Residents of Negombo were seen scavenging plastic raw materials that failed Wednesday morning.
Tugs and warships were leading the effort to put out the blaze, and three Indian Coast Guard vessels were due to join the effort later Wednesday.
India has already sent another ship and plane on Tuesday to assess the damage and coordinate firefighting efforts, the Sri Lankan navy said.
In September, an oil tanker caught fire off the east coast of Sri Lanka after an engine room explosion that killed a crew member. This fire was extinguished after more than a week with the help of the Indian Coast Guard.
© 2021 AFP