X-Press Feeders, operator of the container ship X-Press Pearl, has signed a contract with the Shanghai Salvage Company for the removal of the wreck. Last Friday, four former crew members had their travel bans lifted by a Sri Lankan court, but another four are still not permitted to leave.

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 has since been resting on the seabed, with X-Press Feeders waiting for the Monsoon to pass for the salvage to be executed.

Also read: Container leaking acid on board X-Press Pearl refused by two ports

Salvage and recovery of containers

The contract with Shanghai Salvage Company (SSC) was signed on 2 December. SSC has established a project team for the salvage operation and has already mobilised the equipment necessary for the salvage. The wreck removal plan is said to ensure a complete removal and safe, proper disposal of the wreck and any debris and pollutants around the wreck.

The wreck removal team will be supported by response tugs on a 24-hour watch to deal with debris or forms of pollutants. Regular water sampling will be ongoing at the site, with representatives of the International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation Ltd (ITOPF) and Oil Spill Response will be ready to respond immediately, if required.

Meanwhile, Resolve Marine have commenced the recovery of the containers and debris that were lost overboard during the vessel fire and subsequent sinking. The debris has been identified through side-scan sonar operations, undertaken during July and August, and its recovery and safe disposal is expected to be completed in due course.

Sri Lankan authorities have submitted their second compensation claim, which is being reviewed by the vessel owners P&I Club and discussions are ongoing.

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

Repatriation of crew members

On Friday, 10 December, X-Press Feeders reported that a further four former crew members of the vessel have had their travel bans lifted by a Sri Lankan court. The ship operator says arrangements are currently being made for their immediate repatriation to their families after spending more than six months in Sri Lanka after their evacuation from the vessel on May 25, 2021.

Yet, another four crew members are still prohibited from leaving Sri Lanka and they remain housed at a hotel in Colombo. X-Press Feeders says in statement that the company is ‘very aware and concerned about the toll that their lengthy separation from family and friends is taking on them mentally and physically and the ongoing burden placed on their families at home. We are providing as much support as possible to these much-valued seafarers and their families and are hoping to see them repatriated as soon as possible.’

Also read: Eleven seafarers of fire-stricken X-Press Pearl repatriated

Picture by the Sri Lanka Ports Authority.