Burnt chemical cargo ship off Colombo sinks to the bottom of the sea bed

A cargo ship carrying tonnes of chemicals is sinking off Sri Lanka’s west coast, the country’s government and navy said, in one of Sri Lanka’s worst-ever marine disasters.

The Singapore-registered MV X-Press Pearl was carrying 1,486 containers, including 25 tonnes of nitric acid, along with other chemicals and cosmetics that were loaded at the port of Hazira, India, on May 15.

On May 20, a fire erupted on the ship, which was anchored about 9.5 nautical miles northwest of Colombo, waiting to enter the port.

Authorities battled the blaze for 13 days, as flaming containers laden with chemicals fell from the ship’s deck.

Water submerged the MV X-Press Pearl’s quarterdeck on Wednesday, a day after firefighters extinguished the fire.

Sri Lankan navy spokesman Captain Indika de Silva said the rear part of the ship has sunk and that they have stopped towing it.

“The ship is resting in the bottom of the seabed now. There is no more towing. We have stopped trying to tow it out of the Sri Lankan waters,” he said.

“Now our concern is about any oil spill. We are closely monitoring this and so far we have not detected any spill. It will be devastating if that happens, but we are taking all precautions.”

The navy believes the blaze was caused by the chemicals being transported on the vessel.

Sri Lankan police are probing the fire and a court in Colombo on Tuesday imposed a travel ban on the captain, the engineer and the assistant engineer.

The vessel’s 25-member crew was evacuated last week after an explosion. They include Philippine, Chinese, Indian and Russian nationals.

The blaze destroyed most of the ship’s cargo and polluted surrounding waters and a long stretch of the island nation’s famed beaches.

Tonnes of plastic pellets have swamped the island’s coastline and rich fishing grounds, creating one of the biggest environmental crises in decades, experts say.

Meanwhile, the government has banned fishing along an 80km stretch of the coastline, affecting 5,600 fishing boats, while hundreds of soldiers have been deployed to clean the beach.