Photos: X-Press Pearl ​Salvage Operation Begins Off Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka kick-started a drive to retrieve debris and freight containers resting on the ocean bed after the disaster concerning X-Press Pearl earlier in May 2021. Darshani Lahandapura, the Chairperson of the Marine Environment Protection Authority, reportedly informed News 1st that the vessel custodian is continuing with salvage operations.

X press pearl salvage underway
Image Credits: The Pearl Protectors / @PearlProtectors

On 20 May, Singapore-flagged vessel, ‘X-Press Pearl’ reported smoke coming out of the cargo when it was at Sri Lanka’s Colombo anchorage. On 21 May, it was reported that the deck was on fire. The port authority had deployed firefighting tugs and helicopters to extend support and fight the raging fire.

On 22 May, another explosion took place in X-Press Pearl’s cargo hold #2. Tugs kept firefighting along with Megha, Hercules, Posh Teal, Mahawewa, and Posh Hardy deployed.

X press pearl salvage
Image Credits: The Pearl Protectors / @PearlProtectors

On 23 May, 12 members of the crew disembarked to make way for a team of 12 firefighters. The latter went ahead with the operation with water spraying tugs at the site.

By 24 May, the fire intensified. It almost caught the vessel’s aft. A louder explosion was observed on 25 May. As a prudent step ahead, it was decided to evacuate 13 crew members and the firefighting crew comprising 12 individuals.

X press pearl salvage
Image Credits: The Pearl Protectors / @PearlProtectors

The firefighting team and crew members were shifted to an ashore quarantine centre. Firefighting tugs kept operating throughout 26 May on-site with aid from two Indian Coastguard vessels and Sri Lankan Navy helicopters and vessels.

On 27 May, efforts to put out the fire were going on with firefighting tugs, Sri Lanka’s Navy, and the Indian coastguard on the scene. A team of inspectors could board the vessel on June 1 and reported that the engine room had been flooded.

X press pearl salvage carried in containers

Image Credits: The Pearl Protectors / @PearlProtectorsEfforts to build a connection for towing were unsuccessful despite attempts. This was because the tug’s movement was heavily impacted by the swell. However, the operation had to be cancelled for safety purposes.

Irrespective of salvors boarding the vessel on 2 June and attaching a tow wire, tremendous efforts to move the ship to deep-sea failed. As a result, the vessel’s aft portion had sunk to the bottom at about 21 meters.

Oil Spill Response Limited will act upon any potential spills. The company is currently liaising with ITOPF, appointed to offer technical expertise when needed. The ship ultimately settled on the ocean bed off the shores of Sri Lanka.


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