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Report: Sea Turtles Found After X-Press Pearl Sinking Had "Acid Burns"

x press pearl
Courtesy Sri Lankan Navy

Published Jun 23, 2021 8:38 PM by The Maritime Executive

The sea turtle die-off reported near Colombo in recent weeks was caused by fire and pollution from the wrecked boxship X-Press Pearl, according to the Sri Lankan government. 

“A large number of sea creatures in the ocean have died as a result of the fire aboard [X-Press Pearl]," said Minister C.B. Rathnayake of Sri Lanka's Ministry of Wildlife and Foreign Conservation, speaking to The Nation. "Accordingly, investigations were conducted to determine the cause of death and clear signs of acid burns were visible on the dead sea turtles." 

X-Press Pearl was carrying about 80 containers of dangerous goods, according to the AP, including a 25-tonne consignment of nitric acid. The acid cargo was leaking for more than a week before her arrival off Colombo, and investigators believe it may have caused the fire that ultimately led to her sinking. 

After X-Press Pearl went down, the Ministry of Wildlife was tasked with evaluating the large number of deceased turtles that began washing up in the vicinity of the wreck site. Nearly 100 turtle carcasses have been recovered to date, many bearing signs of throat and shell damage, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. To determine the cause, the ministry reached out to the University of Peradeniya, the Ragama Teaching Hospital and technical assistance partners in Singapore. "The reports of the investigations will be made public as soon as possible," Minister Rathnayake said.

About one dozen dead dolphins and one dead whale have also been found, and autopsies are under way to determine the cause of death. 

The nation's Ministry of Justice is conducting a separate investigation into the circumstances of the sinking, and it has set up five subcommittees to follow the threads - one each for questions of insurance, fisheries, environment, economy and legal matters. It has already filed an initial claim for $40 million against X-Press Pearl's owner for the initial firefighting response, not including damages related to the sinking or the pollution that followed. 

Separately, two fishermen have filed a petition with Sri Lanka's Supreme Court to ask for compensation for all of the fishing communities affected by the X-Press Pearl disaster. About 7,700 fishing families lost income as a result of a fishery shutdown after the sinking, and another 2,100 families in the shoreside elements of the seafood value chain also saw their income stream reduced. They are appealing for relief totaling $2,500 per family under Sri Lanka's Fundamental Rights law.