Options run out for MV x-press Pearl | Daily News

Options run out for MV x-press Pearl

Blaze on boxship out of control after explosion:
MEPA, Navy considering further action:
 Indian ships join firefighting effort :
The “X-PRESS PEARL” vessel engulfed in flames. Pictures were captured by a SL Air Force Bell 212 helicopter yesterday morning.
The “X-PRESS PEARL” vessel engulfed in flames. Pictures were captured by a SL Air Force Bell 212 helicopter yesterday morning.

The chances of saving the Boxship MV X-press Pearl anchored off Colombo were fading last night as the fire on board went out of control following a massive explosion.

The Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA) and other authorities were discussing three options yesterday evening with regard to the massive blaze on board the Singapore-registered vessel.

Speaking to the Daily News, MEPA Director General Terney Pradeep said that the fire onboard the vessel was out of control with yesterday’s explosion and that spraying water or dry chemicals had little effect as the fire was within the containers carrying 25 tonnes of Nitric Acid and other chemicals.

He said the authorities were exploring three best options available to them which was to tow the ship away into deep waters in order to minimise the impact on Sri Lanka, to tow the ship ashore or to allow the ship to remain in its current position.

“The best option would be if we could tow the ship away from Sri Lanka, but due to the fire and the structure of the ship weakening due to the intense heat, there is a risk of the ship breaking apart. The easiest would be to bring the ship closer to the shore-line, but that is very risky as the ship contains highly inflammable chemicals which could cause a huge explosion and cause great damage.”

He said that under the present situation, the next option would be to leave the ship where it is, but containing the fire is an arduous task as strong winds due to the cyclonic conditions were fanning the flames further.

He warned that packages or debris containing toxic material that had fallen overboard from the distressed vessel off the coast of Sri Lanka may reach the shore around Colombo or Negombo and requested the public to refrain from touching, approaching or opening the packages.

He urged the public to inform the Police, Tri-Forces or contact the DMC hotline on 117 if they come across any of the toxic material or debris.

Pradeep said that many cargo containers containing chemical materials have fallen into the sea after yesterday’s explosion which has caused the vessel to tilt. He said that the crew members had abandoned the ship and a Navy tug had brought the crew members ashore. However, two of the Indian crew members had sustained injuries during their attempt to evacuate the ship and have been admitted to hospital.

The vessel is currently 9.5 Nautical Miles off the coast of Colombo. It had departed from the Port of Hazira in India on May 15.The three-month old, 2,700 TEU boxship caught fire on Thursday off Colombo Port and the Navy deployed several vessels to assist in firefighting and the Air Force had deployed helicopters to spray dry chemicals on the blaze.

Meanwhile, Air Force Spokesman Group Captain Dushan Wijesinghe said that a Bell 212 helicopter had sprayed dry chemicals on the ship yesterday after the explosion, but it had no impact on the fire. He also noted that the Air Force Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear and Explosive (CBRNE) Wing was on standby to assist in handling the toxic materials from the ill-fated vessel.

The distressed container ship was manned by a crew of 25, who are Philippine, Chinese, Indian and Russian nationals.

The Navy had dispatched two Offshore Patrol Vessels, Sri Lanka Naval Ships (SLNS) Sagara, Sindurala and a Fast Attack Craft to the scene of the fire. In addition, one Tug from the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) also joined the firefighting efforts. Meanwhile, the Indian High Commission in Colombo said that India deployed multiple assets to douse the fire on MV X Press Pearl off Colombo promptly responding to an emergency request by Sri Lanka Navy yesterday.

This includes Vessels Vaibhav, Vajra and Samudra Prehari by Indian Coast Guard and Tug Water Lilly by Director General, Shipping in addition to Dornier aircraft for aerial reconnaissance.

“Immediately upon receiving the Sri Lankan request, relevant authorities in India were alerted and assets were deployed expeditiously. India has a tradition of being the first responder during crises in Sri Lanka. It may be recalled that a potentially huge oil spill was averted with assistance from India after MT New Diamond with 200,000 metric tons crude oil on board caught fire off Sri Lanka’s Eastern Coast in September 2020,” the High Commission said in a statement.

X-Press Pearl is a brand new 36,000 DWT feeder delivered in February and operated by X-Press Feeders. She is registered in Singapore and runs on X-Press’ Straits Middle East service between Qatar, the UAE, India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, and Singapore.