Sri Lanka prepares for oil spill from sunken X-Press Pearl

Sri Lankan authorities said on Thursday June 3rd that they were preparing for a worst-case scenario of a possible oil slick from the X-Press Pearl (IMO 9875343) the aft of which is now resting on the seabed some 9.5 miles off the Sri Lankan coast.

The Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA) has stockpiled oil dispersants, booms and skimmers in case of a leak from the burnt-out container ship which has nearly 350 tonnes of oil in its fuel tanks.

The vessel burned for 13 days before its aft, made too heavy as a result of the tons of water used to douse the flames, sank to the seabed in a depth of 21 metres. The event is already being termed Sri Lanka’s worst maritime environmental disaster, with pristine beaches seeing volumes of plastic pollution from some of the containers that fell overboard during the incident.

Sri Lanka Navy spokesman Indika de Silva said there had not yet been an oil leak from the ship, but that arrangements were in place to deal with a possible spill which is the worst-case scenario”.

An Indian coastguard vessel already in the area has the equipment to deal with an oil slick before it could reach the beaches, according to the Sri Lankan navy, which has requested additional assistance.

X-Press Feeders confirmed on June 3rd that  that the ship’s aft portion was sitting on the seabed at a depth of about 21 metres and that the forward section was settling down slowly”.

Sri Lanka’s navy said the bow of the vessel was still above the waterline as of Thursday morning. “Even if the bow also hits the sea bed, still there will be a section of the upper deck and bridge sticking out of the water,” de Silva told the AFP news agency.

The manifest revealed that, apart from 25 tons of nitric acid, and the bunker fuel on board, the vessel also had in the containers it was carrying a large quantity of lubricants. Tons of plastic granules, intended for the packaging industry, had already covered 80km  of the West coast of the island.

Sri Lanka has launched a criminal investigation into the fire and pollution. Authorities believed the fire was caused by a nitric acid leak, noticed by the crew as early as May 11th, long before the ship entered Sri Lankan waters.

The three main crew members, including the captain and chief engineer, both of Russian nationality, will have to remain on the island for the duration of the investigation. Their passports were confiscated on June 1st by order of a court. A third officer, an Indian national, has also been questioned.

Meanwhile, Singapore authorities said that they have started their own investigation into the X-Press Pearl incident, as the vessel sailed under the Singapore flag.

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.