The first eleven seafarers of the container ship X-Press Pearl, which suffered a major fire and subsequently sank off Sri Lanka, have been repatriated. This was reported by the vessel’s operator X-Press Feeders. The remaining fourteen crew members still await repatriation.

The travel ban for the crew members was lifted by the Sri Lankan courts on July 13. Before being repatriated they had been in lockdown in Colombo for six weeks.

X-Press Feeders says it will continue to work with the Sri Lankan authorities towards the repatriation of the fourteen remaining crew members who are currently still housed at a hotel in Colombo. The company says it is ‘eager to get them home to much-needed support’ and hopes ‘to establish a departure date for all of them as soon as possible’.

Spill monitoring continues

The leaking chemicals and cargo from the ship have caused considerable environmental damage. A light silvery-grey sheen continues to be observed emanating from the vessel with regular water sampling ongoing around the wreck. There have been no confirmed reports of any bunker oil leak at this stage.

At the wreck site, caretaker salvors remain on a 24-hour watch to deal with any debris and report any form of a spill with drones deployed daily to help with the monitoring activities. Representatives of the International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation Ltd (ITOPF) and Oil Spill Response continue to monitor daily updates from the scene and are ready to respond immediately if required.

Also read: Operator of fire-stricken X-Press Pearl pays USD 3.6 million to Sri Lanka

Major container ship fire

While waiting at the outer harbour of the Port of Colombo for a berth to carry out scheduled container handlings, a fire broke out on the X-Press Pearl on 20 May. After thirteen days of firefighting, the fire was contained. Due to bad weather and structural damage, however, the vessel’s sinking could not be prevented. The cause of the fire was allegedly a container leaking nitric acid.

The ship now rests on the seabed and remains stable for now. Ship operator X-Press Feeders has said salvage of the wreck will probably have to wait until the Monsoon has passed.

Marker buoys have been deployed around the periphery of X-Press Pearl to create a fifty-metre safe zone around the wreck. Meanwhile, the survey vessel Dondra has commenced side-scan sonar operations to locate any sunken containers or debris in the anchorage for removal.

Picture by the Sri Lanka Ports Authority.