COLOMBO, 8 June 2021:
The Sri Lankan government is probing a possible marine disaster – including deaths of some marine animals – due to a sunken cargo vessel after animal carcasses washed ashore following the shipwreck, officials said today.
A wildlife department spokesperson said authorities found carcasses of at least 14 turtles, three dolphins, and few sea birds in the coastal area.
The discovery of animal carcasses triggered concern the Singapore-registered X-Press Pearl vessel, which was on fire for two weeks before it sank on June 2, has endangered the marine life in the sea area.
“We have conducted postmortems into the deaths of these sea animals. We will know if the deaths have any links to the sunken ship when the report is released,” said Uthpala Adaranga, a warden of the Hikkaduwa Marine Sanctuary.
He said the last time animals died was when MT New Diamond carrying 270,000 metric tonnes of crude oil caught fire in Sri Lankan waters in September 2020.
The MV X-Press Pearl was carrying 1,500 containers of nitric acid and other toxic chemicals when it caught fire on May 20. The vessel was then travelling from India to Colombo harbour. Firefighters made efforts to douse the fire, but the ship sank finally.
The authorities said they were monitoring the situation even as they believe the hazardous chemicals might have burnt into fumes or could have dissolved in seawater.
Searchers have found the ship’s Voyage Data Recorder (VDR) and its data could be crucial in probing the cause of the fire, the Sri Lanka Navy said.
Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA) has set into motion its plan to minimise the impact caused by debris and the plastic pallets that have washed ashore due to the sunken ship.
The environmental agency head Dharshani Lahandapura said they were studying the short-term and long-term impact due to the fire. She said the agency was finding a way to dispose of the debris that has washed ashore.
The marine accident has taken place as the island nation is battling the third wave of the coronavirus.
The government has imposed strict travel restrictions to curb the Covid-19 outbreak, which has triggered grave economic difficulties across the nation.
The country today registered 2,123 new Covid-19 infections, bring the overall caseload to 207,979 since the pandemic began last year. The disease has claimed more than 1,700 deaths in the country.