X Press Pearl fire looks to have burned out, salvors might board ship

As of Sunday May 30th the fire on board stricken container ship X Press Pearl (IMO 9875343) was in a decayed state. Some flames were however still visible and smoke was still being emitted. Firefighting tugs and the Sri Lankan Navy continued to spray water on the wreck.

As of 11:00 on May 31st Sri Lankan time the salvors confirmed that the vessel’s hull remained structurally intact, and that there had been no loss of oil into the port’s waters.

Sri Lanka’s MEPA was continuing to prepare for any oil spill, although reconnaissance from the Indian Coast Guard had said that no oil leak had been detected . MEPA said that it feared the hull of the ship has been compromised by the fire and that it could break apart if they attempted to tow the ship further out to sea in the current rough waters.

By May 28th the fire had been doused in the forward and mid areas, but burned-out containers were hanging precariously. The rear compartments were still on fire and as of May 28th had not been brought under control.

By May 30th firefighting operations had further reduced the area affected by flames to small spot fires in the aft of the ship.

On May 31st (Monday), X-Press Feeders said that salvors were reporting no visible flames aboard the vessel, though smoke was still issuing from areas in the ship’s aft.

Firefighting tugs were continuing to spray and mist the vessel to ensure the cooling of all hotspots and the vessel’s hull and hatches. Temperature readings were being taken with specialized equipment that had arrived from the Netherlands.

Salvors were exploring the possibility of boarding the ship and making a tow connection so it could be moved. There was continued support from the Sri Lankan Navy and Indian coastguard, who remained on scene.

The vessel had some 278 tonnes of bunker oil and 50 tonnes of marine gasoil when the fire erupted. There was a fear of acid rain in various parts of Sri Lanka as nitrogen dioxide gas was emitted during the fire.

Most of the evacuated crew continued to serve out quarantine at dedicated local hotels. On Monday some of the crew had been helping local police with their enquiries into the fire and were cooperating with investigators.

The crew member who was transferred to a special facility in a military hospital after testing positive for Covid-19 remained asymptomatic and continued to recover from his leg injury. A second injured crew member continued to recover from his injuries in a local hospital.

As the week progressed weather conditions had improved.

Debris was beginning to wash up on the Sri Lankan shore, increasing concerns that one of the major costs of the incident could turn out to be environmental, to be added to the significant hull, cargo and liability losses already in progress.

X-Press Feeders said that, as of Monday, contractors continued working with local authorities on their fifth day of shoreline clean-up efforts to dispose safely of any debris that has washed up

More than 300 Sri Lankan army personnel had been deployed on May 27th along the Negombo to Porutota coastal belt area (some 6km long, about 40km north of the capital Colombo) to prevent people from collecting debris and floating items from the ship. Tonnes of charred plastic pellets washed ashore near Colombo on May 28th.

The vessel was known to have been carrying at least 28 containers of the plastic granules that are used as a raw material in the packaging industry. The plastic-covered beach was declared off limits to the public.

Sri Lanka was reported to have begun to take steps to bring charges against the captain and the ship.

A total of nine vessels from Sri Lanka and three from India, along with the salvage company, have been involved in the firefight.

Sri Lanka’s Marine Environment Protection Authority has commenced an investigation following media reports that the crew had discovered a chemical leak in the containers while the vessel was sailing from the Middle East to India. The MEPA was questioning why the captain anchored off Colombo if he was already aware of the danger.

Operator X-Press Feeders rebutted reports that after discovering the leak the ship was denied entry into ports which could have avoided the disaster. X Press Feeders noted that the ship had stopped in both ports on its itinerary. Applications had been made to both ports to offload a container that was leaking nitric acid, but the advice given was there were no specialist facilities or expertise immediately available to deal with the leaking acid.

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.