Sri Lankan experts have been able to recover a data recorder belonging to a fire-ravaged ship carrying harmful chemicals that sank off the country’s capital, officials said on Sunday, as investigators have begun probing what led to the fire.
The Singapore-flagged ship, MV X-Press Pearl, started to sink on Wednesday, a day after officials and authorities extinguished a fire that was raging on board for nearly two weeks. Efforts to tow the ship deeper into the sea away from the Colombo port failed after its stern sank to rest on the seabed.
The fire has destroyed much of the ship’s cargo, which included 25 tons of nitric acid and other harmful chemicals. But there are possibilities that the remaining chemicals and hundreds of tons of oil from fuel tanks could also leak into the sea.
The Voyage Data Recorder (VDR), also popular as a “maritime black box”, permits investigators to review instructions and procedures much ahead of an incident.
Sri Lankan authorities hope that it will offer details of the cargo ship’s movements and communication with the harbour in Colombo, where it was supposed to dock. The VDR will be handed to the local law enforcement agencies that have been investigating the fire.
The authority and the cargo ship’s operator said that the vessel’s aft portion lies on the seabed 21 meters deep, and the forward section is slowly sinking.
Operator X-Press Feeders has apologized for the disaster and assured that salvagers remain on the scene to deal with possible spills.
The operator and port authority has said that there was no sign of oil or chemical spill. They said that Sri Lanka’s navy, salvage crews, Indian coastguard, and local authorities were capable of responding to signs of debris and oil pollution. They were also monitoring the situation round the clock.
Such an environmental disaster may devastate marine life and pollute the country’s famed beaches. The disaster has resulted in several tons of plastic pellets washing ashore. The Sri Lankan government has banned fishing along 80 kilometres of the coastline.
Officials state that there had been approximately 300 tons of oil on board. Experts believe that it could have burned off the fire.
Environmentalists have warned of a potentially “terrible ecological disaster” as hazardous plastics, goods, chemicals, and oil may get released into the water, destroying the marine ecosystem.
The fire had erupted on May 20 when the cargo ship was anchored approximately 18 kilometers northwest of Colombo. It had been waiting to reach the port. The navy thinks that the blaze had been brought about by the vessel’s cargo, which it had been transporting from the port of Hazira, India.
The MV X-Press Pearl had departed from Hazira on May 15 and was heading to Singapore via Colombo.
Sri Lanka’s Criminal Investigations Department (CID) has recorded statements from 20 crew members and officials regarding the incident. They have taken custody of the ship’s VDR.