Sri Lanka is currently dealing with "the worst beach pollution in our history," after a Singapore-owned container ship carrying toxic chemicals caught fire, burnt for 12 consecutive days, and spilled plastic debris and other hazardous waste into the ocean.
The ship, carrying tens of tons of nitric acid, caustic soda, sodium methoxide and methane, was located nine miles off the coast of the capital of Colombo when it caught fire on May 20.
An explosion occurred two days later, sending black smoke billowing into the sky and containers of raw materials used to make plastic products into the ocean and onto the shore.
The fire was finally extinguished on Tuesday.
Dharshani Lahandapura, the chair of the Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA), said the containers held plastic pellets known as nurdles.
The nurdles can turn into microplastics, which can stay in the ocean permanently and can be fatal for animals like turtles, fish, and birds — many of which have already begun to wash up on the shore.
The released chemicals, meanwhile, can cause decade-long damage to reefs and mangroves.
"With the available information so far, this can be described as the worst disaster in my lifetime,” Lahandapura told the Guardian.
Status quo of fire-stricken #MVXPressPearl lying off Colombo harbour this morning. #srilanka_navy together with other stakeholders working at full force to mitigate damage to marine eco-system. pic.twitter.com/35IANdy5xf— The Sri Lanka Navy (@srilanka_navy) May 27, 2021
Once the fire was under control, Sri Lanka turned its attention to X-Press Feeders, the company that operates the ship.
The general manager of MEPA, Terney Pradeep Kumara, said the company would face criminal charges under the nation’s Marine Pollution Prevention Act. Further claims will also be made once the extension of environmental damage is fully assessed.
The ship is still “facing an imminent risk of going down,” which would cause an oil spill of unimaginable consequences.
“From the very first day, we have been collecting data regarding the ship and the pollution. After we settled the immediate issue of the fire and the safety of the crew, it is high time we take legal action,” Kumara told The Straits Times.
Fishing has been banned across 80 kilometres of the coast to protect human health.