Photo: Image credit: Indian Coast Guard

One crew member of X-Press Pearl tests positive for Covid as efforts to douse the fire start to bear fruit

X-press pearl
X-Press Pearl; Image credit: Indian Coast Guard

One of the two injured crew members of the X-Press Pearl containership, which remains ablaze off Colombo port, Sri Lanka, has tested positive for COVID-19, operator of the ship informed.

According to Singapore-based X-Press Feeders, 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 company said in an update.

Meanwhile, 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 ship operator said that firefighters and salvage experts were flown in from Europe working with local authorities to save the vessel and its cargo. Nevertheless, the operation has been hampered by adverse weather due to the onset of southwest monsoons.

Based on the latest update from the Indian Coast Guard, the raging fire has been largely controlled.

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What was deemed initially as a controlled fire in the forecastle area, started to deteriorate two days ago, following an explosion in one of the containers that contained hazardous material.

The fire was raging for two days spreading across the listing vessel, with thick smoke enveloping the vessel, based on the footage released by the Sri Lanka Navy. It seems that the flames have swallowed the entire cargo deck and all the cargo stacked on it.

Judging on the footage from the scene that emerged over the past two days, the ship is likely to be a total loss.

As a result, containers and various parts of the vessel continue to fall overboard the distressed vessel and wash ashore. A partly burned container washed ashore at Thalahena beach in Negombo on May 26th, 2021 and it is believed to be a container that fell overboard the fire-hit vessel, the navy said.

Burnt container washes ashore; Image credit: Sri Lanka Navy

“It is possible that containers and other debris falling from the distressed ship from time to time, to reach the coast along Dikovita to Chilaw as revealed by model of current weather pattern. Therefore, the general public and fishing community are cautioned not to get in touch with such elements as they could carry harmful chemicals,” the navy added.

As disclosed, Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA) has launched a special security arrangement with the Sri Lanka Coast Guard to investigate the impact on the coastal environment and educate the general public in coastal areas from Dickowita to Chilaw which are likely to gather more debris from the distressed ship. The same arrangement is in place covering the coastline from Wellawatte to Panadura.

The ship’s cargo poses a major threat of an environmental pollution to the area, especially since concerns have been voiced about the potential risk of the ship breaking apart.

Namely, the feeder vessel, registered under the flag of Singapore, is carrying 1,486 containers with 25 tons of Nitric Acid, several other chemicals, and cosmetics.

What is more, there are 300,000 metric tons of fuel in the vessel’s tanks, which could spill into the sea if the ship splits in half or sinks.