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Container Ship Transporting Chemicals Has Been Ablaze for 7 Days off Sri Lanka

Fortunately all 25 crew members are safe, but the environmental impact of hazardous chemicals is concerning authorities.

Container Ship Transporting Chemicals Has Been Ablaze for 7 Days off Sri Lanka
The burning X-PRESS Pearl Sir Lanka Ports Authority/Twitter

A large container ship carrying chemicals has been engulfed in roaring flames off the coast of Sri Lanka for seven days in a row, after catching fire on Friday, May 21. 

Five tugboats, a Sri Lankan Navy ship, and the Sri Lanka Air Force are all battling the flames that have spread across the ship, from its point of origin in the forecastle area to the quarterdeck, where the ship's bridge is placed, reports the Sri Lanka Navy.

The ship was anchored approximately 9.5 nautical miles (18 km) off of Colombo, waiting to enter the port when the fire started.

After four days of burning fire, an explosion occurred on Tuesday, May 25. All 25 crew members of the ship, as well as firefighters and salvage workers, were evacuated with only one sent to the hospital to treat minor injuries, reports AFP.

The crew members are nationals from the Philippines, China, India, and Russia.

How did the fire start?

The Navy believes the fire was caused by some of the chemicals the Singapore-flagged ship was transporting in its 1,486 containers. A number of hazardous chemicals were in them, including 25 tons of nitric acid, all of which were loaded in India at Hazira Port on May 15, reports the AP.

Several containers have tumbled into the sea, as well as parts of the ship, and as teams fight incessantly to curb the roaring flames, worries about the environmental impact of such a blaze and debris are also concerning authorities. 

To assess the issue and keep a close eye on matters, the Sri Lanka Navy said that they and the Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA) are paying close attention to the debris that is washing onto the nearby shores of Sri Lanka. The Navy has launched a special security arrangement with the Sri Lanka Coast Guard to analyze the impact on the coastal environment, as well as the local residents who may pick up some dangerous debris. 

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When transporting dangerous chemicals like oil, or in this case nitric acid, container ships suffer serious issues; the implications not only on the livelihoods of the crew but also on the environment can be monumental. Eight months ago, a Japanese ship spilled oil near Mauritius, which caused an ecological catastrophe in the island's blue waters, with alarming numbers of dead dolphins and whales washing ashore. 

More recently, the Ever Given container ship blocked the Suez Canal for almost a week, causing huge backlogs of other ships, and costing companies billions of dollars in delays.

Mariners get a lot of training and some even go so far as to attend training facilities like Port Revel in France, which recreates mini replicated container ships and specific canals, like the Suez Canal, for mariners to train. 

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Sadly, sometimes that's just not enough, and accidents happen. Luckily the whole crew of the MV X-PRESS was safely evacuated, but who's to say the lasting impact the fire will have on the surrounding environment.

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