By Antony David and Simon Roughneen
COLOMBO – A Sri Lankan court on Monday (7) directed the navy to monitor the Singaporean container ship destroyed in a fire off the western coast and maintain its security until investigations are complete.
The directive was given when the Attorney General’s department presented the findings of investigations carried out so far into the fire that destroyed the X-Press Pearl ship 10 nautical miles (18 kilometres) north of the Colombo port.
The move came as the navy continued its diving operations to monitor whether the ship’s oil tank was leaking.
“The rough sea condition, poor underwater visibility and strong currents are making the operation difficult,” a navy spokesperson said.
Navy Commander Vice Admiral Nishantha Ulugetnna said so far no oil leakage from the tank, which was originally holding 300 tons of fuel, had been reported.
He said Indian naval assistance has been sought to extract the fuel to prevent an oil spill, and that assistance has already been offered.
There were 1,486 containers on the ship, with cargo including 25 tons of nitric acid and a large stock of microplastic granules used for the production of plastic products, when the fire broke out on May 20.
Chemicals, pieces of microplastic and debris from the ship continue to be washed ashore, polluting beaches and destroying marine life along more than 50 kilometres of coastline.
The carcasses of 10 large turtles and a small whale were found in the past two days along the western and southern beaches.
Environmentalists have described the destruction as the worst in history.
X-Press Feeders, the stricken vessel’s operating company, said on Monday that there were “no signs of debris and no reports of fuel oil pollution as of 1800 Sri Lanka local time.”
Singapore’s Transport Ministry said last week that while its Maritime and Port Authority “has been in constant communication with the Sri Lankan authorities, ship operator, and classification society” since the ship caught fire, it “has also commenced its own investigation on the incident.”