Sri Lankan Officials Order Burning Boxship Out to Sea

x-press pearl
Firefighting efforts aboard X-Press Pearl, May 20 (Sri Lankan Navy)

Published May 23, 2021 9:08 PM by The Maritime Executive

Environmental authorities in Sri Lanka have ordered the still-burning container ship X-Press Pearl to leave the nation's waters as a precautionary measure.

The fire aboard the X-Press Pearl broke out on Thursday as she waited at anchor about 10 nm off the coast of the port of Colombo. The Sri Lankan Navy responded, sending two patrol vessels and one fast attack craft. Two tugs from the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) joined the efforts. In a novel addition, the crew of a Sri Lankan Air Force helicopter bombarded the fire with sacks of dry chemical powder extinguishing agent.

As of Saturday, the fire aboard the X-Press Pearl was not yet entirely contained, Sri Lanka's Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA) confirmed. The two tugboats from the Sri Lanka Ports Authority are still engaged in fire suppression and cooling efforts, but - as is often the case with container fires - fully extinguishing the seat of the blaze is proving challenging. 

As it continues to smolder, MEPA has expressed concern about the potential risk to the marine environment from the vessel's fuel and from some of the cargo, including 25 tonnes of nitric acid. The agency sent aboard a team to investigate the potential cause of the fire last week, and it said in a statement Friday that it believes a chemical reaction was the root cause of the blaze. 

“The company that owns the ship, its local agents and the insurance agent were instructed in writing to take immediate action to control the ship’s fuel and chemicals from being mixed with the Sri Lankan marine system,” MEPA chairman Dharshani Lahandapura told Sri Lankan outlet News 1st.

As of early Monday morning, the X-Press Pearl was still present in the same position off Colombo, according to AIS tracking provided by Pole Star.

X-Press Pearl is a brand new 36,000 dwt feeder delivered in February and operated by X-Press Feeders. She is registered in Singapore and runs on X-Press' Straits Middle East service between Qatar, the UAE, India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, and Singapore. Her last port of call before Colombo was Hazira, India on May 15.