Acid blaze engulfs ship in ‘preventable disaster’
The X-Press Pearl’s owners say the unfolding disaster off the coast of Sri Lanka could’ve been avoided. Source: Sri Lanka Ports Authority
In one of the worst shipping disasters of the year, an unknown number of crew members and 12 firefighters were evacuated from a brand new 2 700-TEU vessel after a week-long acid fire resulted in an explosion yesterday that engulfed the entire vessel in a chemical blaze.
The X-Press Pearl has only been in service since February. It reported an acid leak while in the Arabian Sea earlier last week.
It has since emerged that requests for the vessel, carrying 1 486 containers on board and 25 tonnes of acid, to at least offload its boxes, were refused by officials from two ports – Hamad in Qatar and Adani Azira in India.
Instead the vessel, owned by Singaporean common carrier X-Press Feeders, was forced to head to Sri Lanka where the acid leak caught fire last Thursday while the Pearl waited at anchorage off the Port of Colombo.
Military personnel from India and Sri Lanka tried to salvage the vessel and its cargo by containing the fire.
Specialised firefighting equipment was also imported from Europe but all attempts to save the stricken ship were clearly in vain.
Following yesterday’s explosion, debris from the ship’s crumbling structure washed ashore and Sri Lankan authorities have been warning locals not to handle any material ending up on the country’s beaches as it could be contaminated with dangerous chemicals.
Acid and fuel spillage from the Pearl are also contributing to a worsening ecological disaster.
As thick black smoke billowed from the vessel’s deck in strong wind this morning, X-Press Feeders said that it expected a total loss from what it believed could have been prevented had one of the ports approached allowed the Pearl to dock.
The company’s executive chairman, Tim Hartnoll, told Singapore ocean freight portal Splash 247 that “it was a case of not in my backyard”.
Another source from X-Press Feeders added that what was only a dangerous leak could have been prevented from catching fire if the port authorities of Hamad and Adani Azira had allowed the Pearl to dock. Read more here
By: Eugene Goddard