Photo: X-Press Pearl; Image credit: Indian Navy

Operator: Hull of fire-stricken X-Press Pearl’s structurally intact

Hull of the feeder containership X-Press Pearl, which has been ablaze off Colombo Port for days, remains structurally intact, the operator of the vessel said.

According to an update from X-Press Feeders, salvors have determined that the state of the hull is sound and found that there has been no loss of oil into the port’s waters.

The reassurance is being made amid fears that the ship might be a total loss as a result of the fire that raged on board for over a week.

Namely, the ship’s cargo poses a major threat of environmental pollution to the area, as the vessel 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 should the ship’s bunker tanks become damaged.

Fortunately, the blaze has been doused and reduced to small spots in the aft of the ship, the company said. Firefighting operations are being resumed with support from the Sri Lankan Navy, Air Force, and Indian Coast Guard assets.

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Indian Coast Guard said in its latest update that its vessels Samudra Prahari, Vaibhav and Vajra continue fighting the fire, which has been considerably reduced with moderate smoke emanating from the ship. The Coast Guard confirmed that there was no spill detected from the feeder.

“Salvors are also exploring the possibility of boarding the ship and making a tow connection so it can be moved,” the Singapore-based shipping company said in an update.

“Contractors continue working with local authorities on their fourth day of shoreline clean up efforts to dispose of any debris that has come ashore safely.”

Meanwhile, the company denied media reports that the vessel had been denied entry into Hazira Port in India and Hamad Port in Qatar before reaching Colombo. As informed, the vessel underwent discharge and loading operations in both ports before continuing on its planned journey to Colombo.

“Applications had been made to both ports to offload a container that was leaking nitric acid but the advice given was there were no specialist facilities or expertise immediately available to deal with the leaking acid,” X-Press Fedders pointed out.

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MV X-Press Pearl was scheduled to call at the Colombo International Container Terminals (CICT) of the Port of Colombo before the fire erupted.

“The crew on board the vessel through radio on 19th the May 2021, had informed the SLPA controls that the vessel would arrive the waters of the Port of Colombo on mid-night and that she would call at the port control area during early dawn. As the berth was not ready at that time, the vessel was permitted to remain anchored in the harbor waters, as is usually the process during container operation,” the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) informed.

Shortly after, the port received a request from the ship’s agent to unload and reassemble a TEU containing leaking nitric acid.

The ship’s crew reported later that day that there was smoke inside the ship, which they managed to put under control. However, a couple of hours later the crew sought assistance from the port authority to put out the fire.

SLPA said that it had deployed all possible measures to douse the fire on board the ship immediately after relevant information was provided to the port and from the time of request for assistance.

Based on the update, the crew member who was transferred to a special facility in a military hospital after testing positive for Covid-19 remains asymptomatic and continues to recover from the leg injury. The second injured crew member continues to recover from his injuries in a local hospital.

X-Press Feeders added that all other crew members who remain in a Colombo quarantine facility are in good health and are in contact with their families.

In the meantime, the Sri Lanka Navy in coordination with the Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA) has launched an operation to minimize the impact on the coast from the debris washing ashore. These have so far included containers and other types of debris which have fallen overboard the fire-damaged ship.