Sri Lanka has sought $40 million in damages from the operator of a ship that is sinking off the country’s west coast after a devastating fire on board, officials said on Saturday.
Rohitha Abeygunawardena, the country’s minister of ports and shipping, said that an interim damage claim had been filed via the Attorney General with X-Press Feeders, the company that controls the MV X-Press Pearl.
The vessel has been submerged in Sri Lankan waters off Colombo from June 2 after burning for about two weeks and releasing tonnes of plastic and potentially harmful materials that swamped the country’s pristine beaches.
Environmentalists have called it the “worst ecological disaster” in Sri Lanka’s history.
The country has sought help from Australia in studying the devastating impact of the incident on the marine economy. A fishing ban had been imposed following the disaster.
Kanchana Wijesekera, Sri Lanka’s fisheries minister said that the previously imposed ban along an 80-kilometre stretch of the coastline was lifted on Saturday, excepting in the immediate vicinity of the wreckage.
Almost 20,000 families of fishermen had been affected by the temporary ban. Meanwhile, many Sri Lankan beaches have been able to clean up plastic waste.
Officials said that about 1,200 tonnes of plastic pellets and debris scooped from the beaches have been stored in 45 shipping containers.
On May 20, the Singapore-registered MV X-Press Pearl reported an acid leak and caught fire as it was about to enter the Colombo harbour.
The fire was finally put out after 13 days, but the cargo ship’s stern hit the bottom when a tug attempted to move it deeper into the sea.
Two onboard explosions caused cargo containers to drop into the Indian Ocean. Plastic raw materials later blanketed the western seaboard of the island.
An official who has been involved in the beach clean-up said that it would take about two more weeks to get rid of the piles of plastic waste they have collected so far. Only about 1,200 tonnes have been stored and a similar amount still needs to be removed.
Testing of an oil slick in the north of the port of Colombo is underway. It will help determine if the leak has resulted from the wreckage.
X-Press Feeders, the operators of MV X-Press Pearl, said that an inspection of the wreckage found no oil leak from the vessel’s fuel tanks. However, water in the area has been discoloured since the ship sank.
X-Press Feeders has also pressed the International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation and Oil Spill Response representatives to monitor oil spills (if any) and assist in the clean-up of the polluted beaches.
Last week, Sri Lankan activists and environmentalists sued the vessel’s operator and the government for failing to prevent the disaster.