Sri Lanka insists container ship on fire moves further out to sea: report

Sri Lanka’s Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA) has told the master of the container ship X-Press Pearl (IMO 9875343) to remove the ship from its anchorage off Colombo and head out of Sri Lankan waters, following the new vessel catching fire during the evening of May 20th. There are 25 tons of nitric acid on board as part of the vessel’s announced manifest.

MEPA chairman Dharshani Lahandapura told local media on Saturday that “the company that owns the ship, its local agents and the insurance agent were instructed in writing to take immediate action to control the ship’s fuel and chemicals from being mixed with the Sri Lankan marine system”.

Lahandapura said that  “although around 400kg of dry chemicals were sprayed to contain the fire, given the difficulties in reaching inside the containers aboard the vessel, the containment efforts were not 100% successful.”

It was reported that an inspection of the vessel indicated the fire likely started as a result of a chemical reaction.

The fire had largely been contained by last Friday. However, two tugs remained alongside, continuously drenching the ship in order to reduce the temperature of the vessel.

The Sri Lankan Navy said it received a distress call during the afternoon of May 20th from the X-Press Pearl, reporting a fire on board. At the time the container ship was at an anchorage about 9.5nm northwest of Colombo harbour. The Navy said the ship had 1,486 containers on board and that, as well as the 25 tons of Nitric Acid there were several other chemicals and cosmetics on board. These had been loaded at Hazira, India on May 15th.

The container ship has a crew of 25, comprising Philippine, Chinese, Indian and Russian nationals.

A team comprising Sri Lanka Navy and Ports Authority (SLPA) personnel boarded the ship during the evening of the 20th and inspected the situation. They suspected that the fire broke out due to a chemical reaction in the cargo being transported on the ship. Special teams of the Navy and Sri Lanka Coast Guard remained on standby to respond to any possible emergency situation.

The incident response has involved two Offshore Patrol Vessels, the Sri Lanka Naval Ships (SLNS) Sagara and Sindurala, and a Fast Attack Craft. A tug from the Sri Lanka Ports Authority was also engaged in firefighting efforts.

The X-Press Pearl had arrived at the anchorage on Wednesday May 19th and was awaiting entry into Colombo harbour when the fire started.

The Singapore-flagged X-Press Pearl had only recently been delivered. Operator X-Press Feeders said that “on 20th May 2021 an on deck container on board vessel X-PRESS PEARL (which is deployed in our Straits Middle East SMX service), caught fire whilst at Colombo Anchorage. The vessel had taken all precautionary measures throughout the night. However, firefighting is still underway with assistance of tugs sent by local authorities.”

The company said that tit was looking into alternative options to ensure minimal disruption to its SMX service.

As of May 22nd the vessel was still at anchor off Colombo.

2021-built, Singapore-flagged, 31,629 gt X-Press Pearl is owned by Eos Ro Pte Ltd care of manager Sea Consortium Pte Ltd (X-Press Feeders) of Singapore, ISM manager is Eastaway Ship Management Pte. It is entered with London Club on behalf of Killiney Shipping Pte Ltd.