Off the coast of Sri Lanka, a ship named the “X-Press Pearl” is entirely engulfed in dangerously toxic flames as the fire, first reported May 20, a full five days ago, rages on uncontrollably. Today, it “exploded in intensity,” authorities relate. There are preliminary reports suggesting that they were carrying hazardous cargo not listed on the manifests.
Ship engulfed in flames
Reports coming in from the other side of the globe say that salvage crews are doing what they can to save the ship and some of the cargo but it’s looking pretty grim. The 25-man crew and the salvagers have all been evacuated and the vessel is tilted to the side, shedding burning cargo into the water.
The whole thing is an environmental disaster. Photos taken by both the Sri Lanka Ports Authority and the nation’s Air Force have been going viral.
The Island nation of Sri Lanka hangs like a teardrop off the southern tip of India. As the ship was anchored offshore about 9.5 nautical miles from the entrance to the port in Colombo harbor, “the fire started due to a chemical reaction of the hazardous cargo.”
According to the Sri Lankan Navy, They have 1,486 containers on board “including 25 tons of Nitric Acid and other chemicals which it had loaded at the port of Hazira, India on May 15.” Plus a few more that weren’t listed on the manifests.
The caustic and hazardous chemicals the X-Press Pearl admits carrying are “used in the production of fertilizers, explosives, and for oxidizing metals.” Officials note that “the cargo is also reported to include cosmetics and other potentially dangerous chemicals.” The ones they’re worried about are the ones that aren’t listed.
A “team from the Sri Lanka Navy and Ports Authority which boarded the container ship overnight to inspect the fire,” suspects “that the fire was caused by a chemical reaction or possibly mis-declared cargo.” Not only that, the smoke billowing out “was in part due to the chemicals mixing with the rain” and later the water from the firefighting tugboat.
Fire not ‘under control’
On Monday, operators of the ship, X-Press Feeders, claimed that “the fire was under control as fire-fighting continued.” They lied. The Sri Lankan Navy contradicts that by reporting the fire is being pushed by strong winds towards the bridge.
One of the Maritime Pollution Preventive craft of the Indian Coast Guard is expected to arrive overnight while “aircraft with fire suppressant and oil dispersants” have been put on standby. The vessel is only three months old. “having been delivered to X-Press Feeders in February 2021.”
Adding to the confusion are “rough seas caused by the prevailing bad weather.” Because of that, “the ship is now poised with a starboard list (lean to the right). As a result, some of the containers onboard have tumbled into the sea and some of which are believed to have sunk in waters.
That’s not a good thing, considering what’s in the boxes. The Navy “cautions the fishing community” to “avoid this particular sea area.”
Traditionally, India is the “first responder during crises in Sri Lanka.” They immediately dispatched all the firefighting and well as pollution control equipment at their disposal. The 25-member crew of the ship are thankful to be off of it.
It’s not fun to be stuck on a flaming pile of explosives in the middle of the ocean with no place to go. The crew members are listed as Philippine, Chinese, Indian and Russian nationals. They had sailed from Hazira port in India on May 15 headed toward Singapore with a stop in Colombo.