Operator of Ship That’s on Fire off Sri Lanka’s Coast Wanted to Leave Leaking Chemical Container in India

May 27, 2021 0 Comments

India has sent three special Indian Coast Guard ships and an aircraft to help Sri Lanka put out a huge fire on a container ship off the island country’s coast amid mounting fears of a major oil leak.

While Indian Coast Guard ships Vaibhav and Vajra are braving odds of the rough weather and using external fire fighting system to douze the blaze, ICG ship Samudra Prahari, a specialised Pollution Response (PR) vessel has also been deployed to augment the firefighting efforts and respond to oil spill, if its occurs.

ICG Dornier aircraft has undertaken air reconnaissance of the area for assessment and support. No oil spill has been reported so far, the Indian Navy said in a statement.

Strong winds associated with Cyclone Yaas that hit eastern India on Wednesday had hampered efforts to put out the blaze as a huge cloud of black smoke rose from the MV X-Press Pearl.

“The extreme fire, damage to containers and prevailing inclement weather has caused the vessel to tilt to one side resulting in falling of containers overboard. Concerted joint efforts are in progress by two ICG Ships and four tugs of Sri Lankan authorities to douse the fire,” the Indian Coast Guard’s statement read, adding that ICG formations at Kochi, Chennai and Tuticorin are on standby for immediate assistance towards Pollution Response.

The vessel was carrying nearly 1,500 containers, including 25 tonnes of nitric acid, when a fire broke out as it waited to enter Colombo port.

“ICG ship Vajra had entered Colombo port on May 26 evening and handed over 4500 litres of AFFF compound and 450 kg Dry Chemical Powder to Sri Lanka authorities before rejoining the firefighting operations early morning on Thursday,” the statement further read.

It is believed that the fire was sparked by a leak of nitric acid on the 186 metre (610 feet) long ship. Monsoon winds fanned the flames.

The ship’s operator, X-Press Feeders of Singapore, confirmed they knew about the acid leak, but said attempts to leave the leaking container in India and Qatar had failed. It said port authorities in the two countries had rejected requests because they did not have specialist facilities.

Sri Lankan authorities have lodged a formal complaint with police ahead of initiating legal action against the ship’s captain.

The 25 crew on the X-Press Pearl were evacuated on Tuesday following the explosion. Two suffered minor injuries, the owners said, and one, an Indian national, has tested positive for Covid-19.

The ship was on its way to Colombo from Gujarat. The vessel is anchored 14 kilometres (7.5 nautical miles) offshore and can be seen from Negombo.

In September last year, an oil tanker caught fire off Sri Lanka’s east coast after an engine room explosion that killed one crew member.

The fire on the New Diamond tanker took more than a week to put out and left a 40 kilometre (25 mile) long oil spill. Sri Lanka has demanded the owners pay a $17 million clean-up bill.

(With AFP inputs)

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