Rough seas and poor underwater visibility are hampering naval divers trying to detect a fuel leak from a fire-wrecked container ship carrying chemicals that are slowly sinking off the Sri Lankan capital.
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – Rough seas and poor visibility underwater are holding back naval divers trying to detect any fuel leaks from a fire-wrecked container ship carrying chemicals that is slowly sinking from the Sri Lankan capital, officials said Monday.
Navy spokesman Indica de Silva said divers on Sunday also asked for any leaks from the ship, but were unable to complete the mission due to poor ocean conditions.
“But we did not give up the operation and the team was sent there today,” he said.
Officials said there were no signs of an oil or chemical spill, but environmentalists warned of a possible environmental disaster if hazardous materials were released into the water.
The MV X-Press Pearl under the flag of Singapore began sinking last Wednesday, a day after authorities put out a fire that raged on the ship for 12 days. Attempts to tow the ship into deeper waters away from the port of Colombo failed after the stern of the ship sank and rested on the seabed.
Its stern is still lying at the bottom at a depth of about 21 meters (70 feet), and the front continues to slowly calm down, officials said.
The fire destroyed most of the ship’s cargo, which included 25 tons of nitric acid and other chemicals. But there are fears that the remaining chemicals and hundreds of tons of fuel oil could leak into the sea, destroying marine life and further polluting the island’s famous beaches.
The disaster has already caused garbage to be dumped on the shore, and the government has banned fishing along about 80 kilometers (50 miles) of coastline.
A ship manifesto seen by the Associated Press described the X-Press Pearl as transporting just under 1,500 containers, and described 81 as containing “dangerous” goods.
The fire broke out on May 20 when the ship was anchored about 9.5 nautical miles (18 kilometers) northwest of Colombo and was waiting to enter port. The Navy believes the fire was caused by its chemical cargo.
The court in Colombo forbade the captain, chief engineer and assistant engineer to leave the country. The government has announced it will take legal action against the shipowner to get compensation.