Sri Lanka continues plastic pellet clean-up one year after X-Press Pearl disaster

A year on from the sinking of container ship X-Press Pearl (IMO 9875343), Sri Lanka continues to clean its beaches of the plastic pellets that the vessel was carrying, and us still trying to claim compensation for the environmental damage.

A Sri Lanka committee investigating the extent of damage to the country’s marine and coastal environment has concluded that the disaster was the worst-ever in terms of chemical and plastic pollution of the sea. The committee has submitted its assessment report to the Attorney General’s Office for use in claiming compensation from the Singapore-based operators of the ship.

However, the Sri Lankan authorities are reluctant to go through years of strenuous legal battles in international courts, not least because the country is in desperate need of cash right now. Sri Lanka has obtained an interim payment of $3.7m in damages, but the country could be looking for as much as $5bn to $7bn in compensation. However, the chance of it getting any more than a fraction of that without a lengthy court battle is roughly zero.

The X-Press Pearl was carrying 1,486 containers when it caught fire off Colombo on May 20th 2021, among them 400 containers of nurdles, the plastic pellets from which all manufactured plastic goods are made. The spill saw more than 50bn pellets pollute the sea, with many washing up on the Sri Lankan coast.

More nurdles keep washing up on the beaches, and with the island currently experiencing the southwest monsoon, nurdles that had initially sunk to the seabed or were trapped in underwater structures such as corals have been washed free and are making landfall.

Cleanly separating the two halves of the hull is due to start in November, after the monsoon season, while the actual lifting is expected to begin in February 2023. The final phase, to be completed by September 2023, will see the wreck completely dismantled and recycled.

2001-built, Singapore-flagged, 31,629 gt X-Press Pearl iso wned by Eos Ro Pte Ltd of Singapore and managed by X-Press Feeders of Singapore.