The wreckage of the X-Press Pearl may be resting in part at the bottom of the sea peacefully, but the issues surrounding the burning and eventual sinking of the ship has still not come to an end.
As per the last statement from X-Press Feeders, operators of the container ship X-Press Pearl, 14 members of the ship’s crew are reportedly still housed in Colombo awaiting clearance and release from the Sri Lankan authorities.
Earlier in July, 11 crew members were allowed to go back to their home countries after the Sri Lankan courts lifted a travel ban.
In their statement, X-Press Feeders thanked the crew “for their resilience in having endured the trauma and stress of the fire onboard and an evacuation that caused injuries to their ranks and the subsequent six weeks in lockdown in Colombo.”
“We also thank their families for their patience and fortitude during this uncertain time. X-Press Feeders will continue to work with the Sri Lankan authorities towards the repatriation of the 14 remaining crew members who are currently housed at a hotel in Colombo. We are eager to get them home to much-needed support and hope to establish a departure date for all of them as soon as possible.” the release added.
Meanwhile at the site of the shipwreck, salvors are said to be on a 24-hour watch to deal with any debris and to report any form of oil spills etc with drones deployed daily to help with the monitoring activities.
The salvors are continuing with the cleanup and pollution mitigation efforts with additional oil spill response assets having been flown in from Singapore based on the request of the the UN-EU team based in Colombo.
Although there are no confirmed reports of any bunker oil leak, representatives of ITOPF and Oil Spill Response continue to monitor a light silvery-grey sheen which has been observed emanating from the vessel with regular water sampling ongoing around the wreck.
As per UN Environmental experts, the slick is a visceral reminder of a slow-motion environmental disaster, one of the worst in the country’s history, and a reminder of the mammoth effort that will be needed to clean it up.
“This is the biggest environmental catastrophe to hit Sri Lanka since the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami,” said Thummarukudyil Muraleedharan, the acting head of the disasters and conflicts branch with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
Thummarukudyil is among more than a half-dozen UNEP experts advising Sri Lanka’s government on how to contain the toxic fallout from the X-Press Pearl, which was carrying 81 containers of dangerous goods when it sank in June, according to its owner, X-Press Feeders.
As per the UNEP, the ship’s cargo along with 25 tonnes of nitric acid and 348 tonnes of oil also contained up to 75 billion small plastic pellets known as nurdles that has created a pollution crisis—one that could plague Sri Lanka for years.
“This is a toxic ship and will be a long-running disaster” is how Hemantha Withanage, Executive Director of Sri Lanka’s Centre for Environmental Justice, an advocacy group explained the situation.
The periphery of the wreckage area has been cordoned off with marker buoys creating a 50m safe zone while a survey vessel ‘Dondra’ is reported to have commenced side-scan sonar operations to locate any sunken containers or debris in the anchorage for removal.
X-Press Feeders is said to have have made an initial payment of US$3.6 million to the Sri Lankan government through their P&I insurers.
US$2.1 million of this payment is reportedly to help compensate those affected by the consequences of the fire and sinking of the vessel while negotiations and discussions continue regarding the payment of further claims and legitimate claims.
It has also been reported that there are high level discussions on the removal of the wreckage as it is blocking key navigational routes.