A cargo ship laden with tons of chemicals that broke out in a fire has sunk off the coast of Sri Lanka, raising fears of an environmental catastrophe.
MV X-Press Pearl, registered in Singapore, has been installed and is waiting to enter the port Sri LankaThe capital, Colombo, when a fire broke out on May 20.
The ship was carrying 1,486 containers, including 25 tons of nitric acid and other chemicals and cosmetics.
Authorities have been tackling the fire for more than two weeks and were towing the ship into deep water when it began sinking early Wednesday morning, a day after the fire was extinguished.
The rescue crew attempted to drag her into deeper waters away from the coast, but the attempt was halted after several hours.
X-Press Feeders, operators of the container ship, said salvage experts were able to board the ship and hook up a tow line, but that “efforts to move the ship into deeper waters were unsuccessful.”
“The stern of the vessel is now touching the bottom at a depth of 21 meters (70 feet),” the company said in a statement, while the forward area remains afloat with smoke exiting from two of the cargo hold.
Navy spokeswoman Indica de Silva said the fire and subsequent flooding of the ship would lead to severe pollution.
Silva added that the Navy was preparing to deal with the oil spill after the ship sank.
The government has banned fishing along 80 kilometers of the coast, affecting 5,600 fishing boats, while hundreds of soldiers have been deployed to clean beaches.
“The ship dealt a fatal blow to our lives,” said Joshua Anthony, president of the region’s fishing association.
“We can’t go to the sea, which means we can’t earn a living.”
The Navy believes that the cause of the fire was chemicals that were carried on board the ship.
The fire destroyed most of the ship’s tonnage, polluting the surrounding waters and a long stretch of the island nation’s beaches.
Plastic pellets from the ship were washed ashore.
The ship had left Hazira port, India, on May 15 and was on its way to Singapore via Colombo.
Sri Lankan police are investigating the fire, and a Colombo court on Tuesday imposed a travel ban on the captain, engineer and his assistant from leaving the country.
The government said it would take legal action against the ship’s owners to seek damages.
The ship’s 25-member crew, including nationals from the Philippines, China, India and Russians, were evacuated last week after an explosion.
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