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Sunken Ship Will 'Basically Destroy the Bottom of the Sea'

Chemical leak believed to have triggered fires prior to sinking off Sri Lanka
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 2, 2021 12:32 PM CDT

(Newser) – A chemical-laden cargo ship that burned for 13 days off the coast of Sri Lanka has now sunk, along with hundreds of tons of oil in fuel tanks, in what CNN calls "one of the worst ecological disasters in the country's history." Crews managed to put out fires on the MV X-Press Pearl, anchored outside Colombo, almost two weeks after they were sparked by an apparent nitric acid leak. But efforts to prevent the ship's sinking were thwarted by rough seas and monsoonal winds, reports the BBC. Sri Lanka's Marine Environment Protection Authority confirmed Wednesday that the ship registered to Singapore-based X-Press Shipping, transporting 81 containers of "dangerous goods," was sinking due to a rear water leak, per CNN. An effort to tow the sinking ship to deeper waters was abandoned after its rear end struck the seabed, Reuters reports, noting the full ship then sank.

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The dumping of fuel, nitric acid (used to make explosives and fertilizers), and several other chemicals "will basically destroy the whole bottom of the sea," environmentalist Dr. Ajantha Perera tells the BBC. The head of the regional fishing union adds it's "a death blow" for the industry. MEPA expects damage to pristine beaches along a 20-mile stretch of the country's west coast. Oil and debris have already washed ashore near Negombo, north of Colombo. Locals are furious that Sri Lanka permitted the ship in its waters: X-Press Shipping said the nitric acid leak was detected May 11 but the ship wasn't allowed to stay put during stops in Qatar and India. The ship was 9 nautical miles from Colombo when the fire broke out on May 20. The ship's captain, chief engineer, and a second engineer are barred from leaving Sri Lanka amid investigations. (Read more Sri Lanka stories.)

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