X-Press Pearl cargo looks destroyed, hull in danger, crew in quarantine

Containership X-Press Pearl (IMO 9875343), which has been on fire off Colombo, Sri Lanka for a week, was by Thursday looking seriously damaged, with fire engulfing the vessel from front to back, listing, and few containers if any appearing salvageable. One crewmember tested positive for Covid-19, meaning that the other 24 crewmembers have had to enter quarantine.

Efforts to contain the fire were said to be ongoing, although to what end was beginning to seem the main question.

The Sri Lanka Ports Authority is working with Dutch salvage company SMIT on how to best mitigate the impact of the incident, the focus of which is beginning to be environmental, rather than saving the ship or its cargo.

The fire on the X-Press Pearl was reported on May 20th as the ship was awaiting at an offshore anchorage about 9.5nm from the entrance to Colombo Port. On board were 1,486 containers, including 25 tons of Nitric Acid and other chemicals. Preliminary investigations indicate that the fire started due to a chemical reaction of the hazardous cargo.

An explosion on Tuesday led to an increasingly intense fire, forcing the evacuation of the crew and the firefighters who had been on board. One fire-burned container and other debris was reported to have washed ashore in Sri Lanka. Indian Coast Guard Maritime Pollution Control Ships Vajra and Vaibhav have been deployed to the site.

X-Press Feeders, the ship’s operator, said that all crew were safe, but that two had suffered leg injuries during the evacuation of the ship on Tuesday. The company said that “the two crew members who received leg injuries during their evacuation from the ship on the morning of Tuesday May 25th remain in hospital in a stable condition. One of the seafarers has since tested positive to Covid-19 and has been transferred to a special facility in a military hospital for further treatment. He remains asymptomatic. The other 23 crew members are in a Colombo quarantine facility and are in good health.”

The company said that efforts to extinguish the fire onboard were ongoing, with three firefighting tugs, helicopters and the Sri Lankan Navy and Indian coastguard on scene. The vessel remained at anchor off Colombo port.

Salvage experts flown in from Europe were working with the local authorities in their efforts to save the vessel and its cargo, despite the adverse weather due to the onset of South West monsoons, X-Press Feeders said.

The President of Sri Lanka, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, went on social media on Wednesday evening to thank the firefighters for their efforts and to assure citizens that efforts were underway to safeguard the country’s coastline. He said that he had instructed the country’s Marine Environmental Protection Authority to begin water sampling along the coast.

Despite warnings from the authorities to stay away from the debris due to the dangerous chemicals in the cargo, pictures appeared of people carrying off debris from the containers. The police warned that they had begun investigations to trace people who collected the debris, who would also have breached Covid-related travel restrictions.

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.

Latest video is from either evening 25th or 26th. The state of the ship has worsened considerably since then, with the entire body on fire.