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

Report: Dead turtles, dolphins washing ashore amid impact from X-Press Pearl’s sinking

Dozens of sea turtles and dolphins are washing ashore in Sri Lanka as a result of suspected poisoning by toxins released from X-Press Pearl’s cargo.

It is estimated that these toxins claimed the lives of 176 turtles, 20 dolphins, and four whales, Sri Lanka’s deputy solicitor general, Madawa Tennakoon, said during a court hearing in Colombo last week, Reuters reports. The case was taken up before the  Colombo Magistrate’s Court on June 30.

The government has named 15 people, including the captain, Tyutkalo Vitaly, as co-accused in cases over the damage caused, Reuters reported.

To remind, the Russian skipper of the X-Press Pearl, Vitaly Tyutkalo, appeared in court without charge supported by the company’s lawyers in the middle of June. He was released on bail.

X-Press Pearl was carrying 1,486 containers with 25 tons of Nitric Acid, several other chemicals, and cosmetics before it sank off the Port of Colombo on June 2 after burning for almost two weeks.

What is more, the vessel’s cargo included around 78 metric tons of a material known as plastic nurdles, which have also been washing ashore. The pre-production plastic material is used to manufacture a wide range of end products.

It is not clear how much of this type of plastic has been released into the water, nevertheless, the initial projections indicate that it was upwards of ~25 million spherical pieces of plastic, according to Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

Nurdles can get caught up in the gills of fish causing them to suffocate, a similar case could happen to dolphins, Chari Pattiaratchi from the University of Western Australia is cited as saying by CNN.

As explained by the professor, the nurdles are likely to spread across the Indian Ocean by the currents and stay in the water for years.

The impact on the local fishing community has been devastating as fishing was banned in certain areas, while in others fears of contaminated marine life have prevented people from buying seafood.

Meanwhile, Indian Navy ship Sarvekshak has returned to Colombo harbor after completing 800 miles of side scan sonar survey around X-Press Pearl’s wreck. A preliminary analysis of the survey has revealed a concentration of debris within 3 square miles of the wreck.

#OperatSagarAaraksha2Indian Navy ship Sarvekshak progressing survey around #MVXPressPearl off #Colombo completed 558…

Posted by India in Sri Lanka (High Commission of India, Colombo) on Thursday, July 1, 2021

The survey was carried out in three areas with integral sensors and two survey boats from Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Fisheries. The data collected is intended to assist in restoring the safety of navigation and fishing in the area.

The UN is also coordinating international efforts and mobilizing partners to support Sri Lanka in addressing the disaster of the MV X-Press Pearl.

“An environmental emergency of this nature causes significant damage to the planet by the release of hazardous substances into the ecosystem, this, in turn, threatens lives and livelihoods of the population in the coastal areas. Our efforts are intended to support assessment of the damage, recovery efforts and ensure prevention of such disasters in the future,” UN Resident Coordinator in Sri Lanka Hanaa Singer-Hamdy said.

Insurers of the feeder containership have agreed to pay a part of the initial settlement claim for the damages caused by the incident.

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Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Justice said that the P&I Club of the vessel would pay approximately Rs. 720 million (around $3.6 million) as part of the settlement of the first interim claim. The rest of the claim is reportedly being processed. The amount has been earmarked for distribution to the local fishermen affected most by the incident.

Sri Lankan authorities have filed a claim with the operator of the ill-fated feeder worth $40 million as compensation for the environmental damages caused by the ship’s sinking. The ministry also plans to seek compensation for costs incurred from firefighting efforts.

Based on the latest information from X-Press Feeders, the ship’s operator, there have been no signs yet of an oil spill from the containership which is resting on the seabed with over 3,500 tons of fuel oil remaining in its tanks.