Singapore-flagged ‘poison ship’, X-Press Pearl Causes Environmental Disaster – In early June 2021, a cargo ship carrying chemicals caught fire off Sri Lanka’s seas, potentially causing decades of environmental catastrophe in the country.
The ship burned for days off the coast of Sri Lanka. Thick black smoke billowed out that could be seen from a distance away from the ship’s location. However, the ship, which was named the X-Press Pearl, was already half submerged, the hull of the ship was on the seabed.
Even though the fire had been extinguished, new problems emerged. On the ship there are piles of containers. Many of the containers contain chemicals that are very harmful to the environment, some of which have leaked into the ocean, raising concerns that the chemicals may be toxic to marine life.
In addition, tons of plastic pellets have washed up on local beaches. Not only that, hundreds of tons of fuel for engines are stored in the hull of the sinking ship and may be at risk of leaking into the sea.
Singapore-flagged ‘poison ship’, X-Press Pearl Causes Environmental Disaster
In addition to threats to the environment, local communities are also threatened by danger, for example the fishermen. “We are small fishermen and go to sea every day. We can only earn if we catch fish – otherwise our whole family will starve,” said fisherman, Denish Rodrigo,
One thing that stands out if you look at the photos from this shipwreck is the presence of tiny granules of plastic that stretch almost as far as the eye can see, these plastic pellets are used to make almost all plastic products.
“There were 46 different chemicals on the ship,” said Hemantha Withanage.
He is an environmental activist and founder of the Center for Environmental Justice in Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo
“But the most visible so far are the tons of plastic pellets.”
Since late May, plastic pellets from the X-Press Pearl have been washed ashore at Negombo. They also found dead fish whose bloated stomachs were filled with plastic pellets while some of the plastic granules stuck to the gills.
Plastic takes between 500 and 1,000 years to decompose and is likely to be easily carried by currents to the coasts of Sri Lanka even to places hundreds of kilometers from the shipwreck site. While plastic may be the most visible impact by far, it is not the most dangerous.
“If these plastic pallets are in the fish we eat, those plastic pellets are usually in the digestive tract,” explains Britta Denise Hardesty of CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere, Australia. “But we don’t eat the whole fish except anchovies or sardines.”
‘Our family will go hungry’
For the Negombo fishermen, their main concern is not only what is in the fish, but the possibility that they may not catch any fish at all.
The authorities have banned fishing in the affected areas so that residents lose their livelihoods and income instantly.
“Fish breed in the coral reefs in this area and the authorities say all the fish breeding grounds are being damaged by harmful chemicals. We had no other choice but to throw ourselves into the sea and die,” said Tiuline Fernando, who has been a fisherman for 35 years last.
While the Sri Lankan government expects compensation funds and insurance funds from the ship’s owner based in Singapore, locals are not too sure that most of the money will reach them.
However, the fishermen’s union admits that they really need help, not only among fishermen but also the community in general.
“There are other industries that are affected. We buy nets and engines and boats, we need fuel, then there are people pulling boats. There are thousands of other jobs related to the fishing industry,” said fisherman union chairman Densil Fernando.