About a hundred carcasses of sea turtles with both shell and throat damage, a blue whale, and a few dozens of dead dolphins have recently washed up on the shores of Sri Lanka after a cargo ship burned and sank, raising fears of an ecological disaster.
Environmentalists believe that the deaths were caused directly by the fire and hazardous chemicals released as the Singapore-flagged X-Press Pearl was burning for nearly two weeks and sank last week off the country’s main port in the capital Colombo.
Officials said that the causes had been “provisionally” confirmed while the investigation had been ongoing. On May 20, a fire started on the ship and dead marine beings started washing ashore some days later. A ship manifest accessed by The Associated Press said that 81 of the ship’s 1,500 containers possessed “dangerous” goods.
The country’s navy believes that the blaze was brought about by the vessel’s chemical cargo, most of which had been destroyed by the fire. Debris, including tons of plastic pellets and burned fiberglass, have polluted Sri Lankan waters and stretches of the famed beaches.
A wildlife department official anonymously said that post-mortem analysis on the carcasses is being performed at five government laboratories and also separately under the supervision of the Government Analysts Department.
Anil Jasinghe, secretary of the environment ministry, stated that it could be said provisionally that the deaths were caused due to burns from the heat and also due to potentially harmful chemicals.
Thushan Kapurusinghe, a member of the Turtle Conservation Project, said that the harmful chemicals and fire have killed the turtles. With more than three decades of experience in turtle conservation, he said that these dead turtles had cloacal, oral, and throat bleeding. He also added that specific areas of the carapace have erosion and burn signs.
The sea off the country and its coastline is home to at least five different turtles’ species that come to lay their eggs. March to June is the peak time for the turtles to arrive.
Lalith Ekanayake, a coastal and marine ecologist, said he doubted that based on the quantity of chemicals and nature of the fire, almost 400 turtles have possibly died and carcasses might have drifted in the deep sea.
Sri Lanka is expected to claim compensation from the vessel owner, X-Press Feeders, and has submitted an interim claim of up to $40 million.