Thursday, May 27, 2021

Total Loss Likely as Container Ship Fire Continues to Burn and Chemicals Pollute Beaches

Improper Packaging Suspected as Initial Cause Whilst Ports Refused Entry to Ship
Shipping News Feature

SRI LANKA – The tragedy of the X-Press Pearl which continues to burn off the coast illustrates once more the problems of container shipping and fire at sea, and raises suspicions over the misdeclaration and improper packing and stowage of cargoes yet again.

The ship, operated by X-Press Feeders, left the Port of Hazira 300 kilometres north of Mumbai on May 15 with around 1,500 containers of various cargoes, some mixed chemicals including nitric acid. She took fire on May 20 off the coast of Colombo and was subject to fire control aided by the Sri Lankan Navy and the Port Authority.

A large explosion on May 25 prompted the evacuation of the 25 strong crew, two of whom were injured in the blast. The fire spread, containers were seen to fall into the sea, and oil and chemicals were spilt, both of which have reportedly washed up on Sri Lankan beaches with locals warned to stay clear because of the toxic hazards.

Now, with it seems the vessel destined to sink at any time, that improper packaging may well have caused the incident. However, with the likely declaration that the vessel will be deemed a total loss by insurers sunk or otherwise, there is a much more serious issue to be examined.

This was no sudden outbreak of fire with no warning. According to reports the leaking chemicals were detected far from Sri Lankan shores and the captain requested a berth at two Indian ports, Hazira, from whence she had sailed and would seem to be the obvious choice to investigate the original problem, and Hamad, Qatar, presumably the nearest sanctuary when the leak was discovered.

Both allegedly refused to receive her and now, with General Average declared, she continues to burn. The 2,700+ TEU vessel has been 'bombarded' with fire suppressant from above by the Sri Lankan Air Force but it looks extremely unlikely that she will survive.

Once again fire at sea has proved itself the major cause of avoidable maritime disaster prompting calls for a full enquiry and seeking recompense from those responsible. The company have today issued the latest update which reads:

X-Press Feeders, operators of the container ship 'X-Press Pearl' (IMO: 9875343) report that efforts to extinguish the fire on board are ongoing with three firefighting tugs, helicopters and the Sri Lankan Navy and Indian coastguard on scene. The vessel remains at anchor off Colombo port with fire fighters and salvage experts flown in from Europe working with local authorities in their efforts to save the vessel and its cargo, despite the adverse weather due to the onset of South West monsoons.

"The two crew members who received leg injuries during their evacuation from the ship on the morning of Tuesday, May 25th remain in hospital in stable condition. One of the seafarers has since tested positive to Covid-19 and has been transferred to a special facility in a military hospital for further treatment, he remains asymptomatic. The other 23 crew members are in a Colombo quarantine facility and are in good health.

"The crew members are in contact with their families and X-Press Feeders will continue to liaise with customers about their cargo."

A graphic video taken by the Sri Lankan Air Force is available to view HERE (photo courtesy of the same body).