The Singapore-flagged MV X-Press Pearl sank off Colombo on Thursday a month after catching fire, raising concerns about a possible environmental disaster.
The UN said it was coordinating international efforts and helping Sri Lanka assess damage, recovery efforts and prevention of such disasters in the future.
“An environmental emergency of this nature causes significant damage to the planet by releasing dangerous substances into the ecosystem,” United Nations Resident Coordinator in Sri Lanka Hanaa Singer-Hamdy said in a statement on Saturday evening. “This, in turn, threatens the lives and livelihoods of people in coastal areas. “
A UN team of oil and chemical spill experts – provided by the European Union – has been dispatched to Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka has already submitted an interim claim of $ 40 million to X-Press Feeders – the ship’s operating company – to cover part of the costs of fighting the blaze, which broke out on May 20 when the vessel was anchored approximately 9.5 nautical miles (18 kilometers) northwest of Colombo and awaiting entry into port.
Environmentalists are suing the government and X-Press Feeders for allegedly failing to prevent Sri Lanka’s worst marine environmental disaster, while Sri Lankan police have launched a criminal investigation into the incident.
Last week, experts recovered the data logger from the burned-out vessel.
The Sri Lankan Navy believes the blaze was caused by its cargo of chemicals, which included more than 22 tons of nitric acid and other chemicals, most of which were destroyed in the blaze. But debris, including burnt fiberglass and tons of plastic pellets, has already polluted nearby beaches.
Tons of microplastic granules have flooded the South Asian country’s famous beaches in Negombo, a popular tourist destination, forcing a fishing ban and raising fears of ecological damage.
Local media said more than 50 turtles and eight dolphins have been found dead across the island since the ship caught fire on May 20. The country’s top environmental official, Anil Jasinghe, linked the deaths to the Pearl X-Press on Thursday, but said he was still awaiting final autopsy reports.
A ship manifesto viewed by the Associated Press indicated that the ship was carrying just under 1,500 containers, 81 of which were described as “dangerous” goods.
The main concern was around 300 tonnes of bunker oil used as fuel for the ship. But officials said it could have burned down in the blaze.
Sri Lankan authorities and the ship’s operator have so far said there is no sign of an oil spill.