Sri Lankan authorities said on Sunday they will sue the owners of a Singapore-registered cargo carrier that burned for 11 days in a row off the island’s west coast and caused the worst marine pollution in history.
Police said a criminal investigation was also launched into the fire aboard the MV X-Press Pearl, which was carrying 25 tons of nitric acid and a large amount of plastic raw materials.
The intense fire, still burning at the rear of the 186-meter (610-foot) vessel, has destroyed much of the cargo, some of which also fell into the Indian Ocean.
Tons of microplastic granules have flooded the South Asian nation’s famous beaches, forcing a fishing ban and sparking fears of ecological devastation.
The Sri Lanka Marine Environment Protection Authority said it met with Attorney General Sanjaya Rajaratnam on Sunday to plan legal action against the ship’s owners, its crew and insurers.
“We have reviewed the details and will take action against those responsible,” MEPA President Dharshani Lahandapura told reporters in Colombo.
He said that they had yet to do an assessment of the environmental damage, however, but that he believed it was the “worst marine pollution” Sri Lanka has ever suffered.
Fire under control
Sri Lanka’s chief of the navy, Vice Admiral Nishantha Ulugetenne, who was also in Sunday’s talks with the island’s chief prosecutor, said the X-Press Pearl was still on fire, but that the fire was now under control. .
“It will take a few more days to completely extinguish the fire,” Ulugetenne said, adding that his assessment was that there was no danger of the vessel breaking apart.
But he ruled out towing it away from Sri Lankan waters until the fire was completely put out and experts examined the ship for structural weaknesses.
The international salvage company SMIT is leading the effort to put out the flames and is assisted by the Sri Lankan Navy and the Indian Coast Guard.
The three-month-old ship was heading to Colombo from Gujarat, India. He had previously visited Qatar and Dubai and was due to go to Malaysia and Singapore after stopover in Colombo.
The 25-member crew, who have already been evacuated from the ship, will be questioned on Monday, police said.
Authorities said last week they believed the fire was caused by a nitric acid leak that the crew had known about since May 11.
“The captain and the crew were in quarantine, but the health authorities have told us that we can question them from tomorrow,” Ajith Rohana, a police spokesman, told AFP.
“We have already sent samples of contaminated seawater and burned debris from the ship for a forensic report.”
The ship’s owners, X-Press Feeders, said the ship’s hull remained intact and its fuel tanks were undamaged.
Fishermen were barred from the 80-kilometer (50-mile) stretch of coastline, where tons of plastic pellets have been washed away, prompting a massive clean-up effort.
Fisheries Minister Kanchana Wijesekera said the government would compensate them for the expected losses.
At least 4,500 fishermen were affected in the Negombo fishing and tourist complex, Roman Catholic church officials in the area said on Saturday as they appealed for financial aid.
Priest Sujeewa Athukorale told AFP on Saturday that there were also fears of reduced demand for seafood from the area due to fears of contamination.