A Singapore-registered cargo ship was on fire for more than a week off the coast of Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka.
The carrier MV X-Press Pearl contained 25 tonnes of nitric acid, other chemicals, and plastic raw materials, according to Sri Lanka authorities.
Marine Environment Pollution Authority (MEPA) said on May 30 that it is planning to take legal action against the ship owners, X-Press Feeders, as well as the crew members and insurers.
The police has launched a criminal investigation on the fire and the crew members will be questioned.
Singapore-flagged ship ablaze off Sri Lanka coast
The fire on May 20 was believed to be caused by a chemical reaction on the carrier after a nitric acid leak.
The crew members were reportedly aware of the leak since May 11.
According to CNA, the ship's operator confirmed they knew the leak and said they had tried to offload the container leaking nitric acid, but was told there "were no specialist facilities or expertise immediately available to deal with the leaking acid" in the Hazira Port in India and Hamad Port in Qatar.
Situation Update: Latest pictures of the "X-PRESS PEARL" vessel which is presently engulfed in flames. Pictures were captured by the SLAF Bell 212 this morning. pic.twitter.com/XRWO42Xi5Z— Sri Lanka Air Force (@airforcelk) May 25, 2021
All 25 crew members have been evacuated on May 26.
The ship departed from the port of Hazira in India and was en route to Singapore, via Colombo.
The fire is still burning as of reports from May 30 but it is likely to be extinguished in a few days' time, Yahoo reported.
Possibly the worst marine pollution faced by Sri Lanka
Parts of the cargo ship have sunk into the Indian Ocean and plastic beads were reportedly floating on the water and covered some coastal areas.
Status quo of fire-stricken #MVXPressPearl lying off Colombo harbour this morning. #srilanka_navy together with other stakeholders working at full force to mitigate damage to marine eco-system. pic.twitter.com/35IANdy5xf— The Sri Lanka Navy (@srilanka_navy) May 27, 2021
The pollution can affect fishing breeding points and mangroves at Negombo Lagoon, which is also a tourist attraction in the area.
The pollution has also sparked fear over contamination of seafood. However, the fishermen have been banned from fishing in the affected areas and so the authorities assured that there is no need for locals to fear consuming seafood.
While there is a risk of oil spills, the ship owners had stated that the vessel's hull and bunker tanks remain structurally intact.
According to NDTV, the Sri Lankan navy confirmed that there have been no oil sightings.
Sri Lanka's WP coastal belt is now covered in #PlasticPellets— The Pearl Protectors (@PearlProtectors) May 27, 2021
This is an unprecedented marine environment disaster!
All fishing industry in western half of #SriLanka & South of #India will be severely affected for the foreseeable future
Ic: Colombo Gazette #mvxpresspearl pic.twitter.com/H8gswcVOiD
The Sri Lankan authorities expect dead marine animals, including sea turtles, birds and small fish, to be seen along the affected coastal areas due to the marine pollution.
The Chairperson of Sri Lanka's MEPA, Darshani Lahandapura, told media that this could be the worst marine ecological disaster the country has faced, NDTV reported.
"With the available information so far, this can be described the worst disaster," she said.
Top image via Sri Lanka Airforce and Navy/ Twitter