The Sri Lankan authorities dealing with the X-Press Pearl ship fire have found themselves in a new problem as plastic wastes from the ship are polluting the ocean. On Friday, officials found tons of plastic pellets have washed up the west coast of Sri Lanka as the ship blazes for the 9th consecutive day.
This has prompted a fishing ban in the area stretching 80kms of the coast including Colombo. The government has been expecting an oil spill and chemical spill from the nitric acid cargo-carrying ship but the plastic pollution has ushered in a new fear of contamination.
The Fisheries Minister, Kanchana Wijesekera has announced that the government will be compensating the fishermen affected by the ban. As many as 5600 fishing boat owners are likely to be affected.
The extent of the pollution could be seen first hand in a resort of Kalutara 43 km south of Colombo where millions of plastic granules washed up on Friday. Earlier on yesterday, the Negombo tourist beach and fishing area were flooded with similar pollutants. Negombo lies 40 km from Colombo.
Meanwhile, hundreds of security personnel in hazmat suits have landed on the beaches to remove the plastic waste and other debris that has accumulated in the area. The Singapore flagged vessel has been burning since 20th May.
Srilankan Navy Chief, Vice Admiral Nishantha Ulugetenne has revealed that the fire is under control and the risk of the vessel disintegrating has diminished.
While the threat of the ship breaking up has reduced, the danger of an oil spill remains as the authorities aren’t sure how much oil the ship is still having.
Sri Lanka’s Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA) reiterated this when they termed the oil spill as the biggest threat at the moment.
MEPA has underlined that the toxic plastic cargo of the ship has already caused quite a lot of damage. They are still assessing the impact of the plastic waste on the mangroves, lagoons and the marine life and birds of the area.
MEPA chairperson Dharshani Lahandapura has revealed that this kind of massive microplastic pollution is likely to have a long term impact on the wildlife of the area. Sri Lanka is one of the biodiversity hotspots of Southeast Asia.
The problem of microplastics is a long-standing issue for marine life and this disaster has catapulted it a great deal. Plastics less than 5 millimetres of size are called microplastics and they are the biggest pollutants of the ocean which have now entered the human food chain as we consume fishes and other marine species.
Much of the ship’s cargo including nitric acid, sodium hydroxide, lubricants and chemicals have been destroyed in the fire that has been raging for 9 days.
The ship had carried 28 containers of polythene pellets, of which 8 had been scooped off from bulldozers as they fell off the ship. Authorities have hinted at a nitric acid leak as the cause of the fire. The crew was aware of this leak that happened on 11th May.
All the 25 crew members of the ship had been evacuated on Tuesday and put under quarantine facilities. 2 of them had been hospitalized for treatment of minor injuries
Sri Lankan Navy has taken the help of 4 Indian ships to douse the fire. 2 of these ships will be handy in dealing with any oil leak as they are quite equipped with it.
Meanwhile, the Dutch company SMIT has flown in a special salvage team and fire fighting tugs to deal with the fire. A similar SMIT team had dealt with the oil tanker fire that rocked the east coast of Sri Lanka, last September.
That fire had killed 1 crew member and caused a 40km long oil spill. Sri Lanka asked for a 17$ million compensation for the clean up of the oil spill from the New Diamond Tanker.