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Shanghai Salvage Wins Contract to Remove Wreck of the X-Press Pearl

x press pearl
X-Press Pearl goes down off Colombo, June 2 (Courtesy Sri Lankan Navy)

Published Nov 14, 2021 7:34 PM by The Maritime Executive

Shanghai Salvage, a division of China's Ministry of Transport, has won the contract to remove the wreck of the sunken container ship X-Press Pearl from waters off the coast of Sri Lanka, according to local media. Florida-based salvor Resolve Marine will also participate in the scope of work, Sri Lanka's Daily Mirror reports.

“Clearing the materials in the ship will be done by the Resolve Marine Company during one stage and the clearing of the ship wreckage will be done by the Shanghai Salvage Company during the other stage. They will be paid by the insurance company, which provided the insurance cover to the X-Press Pearl ship,” Sri Lankan Justice Minister Ali Sabry reported to the country's parliament last week. 

The Shanghai Salvage Bureau of the Ministry of Transport, also known as Shanghai Salvage Company, has emerged as a major commercial salvage player in the Indo-Pacific. It has recently rebranded as China Ocean Engineering Shanghai Company, or COES, but it says that it still has a mission of building Chinese "maritime power" and furthering the development of the "Belt and Road." 

Some commercial salvors view the bureau's participation in wreck-removal tenders as a worrisome development, as it is a government entity and can draw on the resources of the Chinese state when it submits a bid. "It's like the U.S. Coast Guard going out and bidding for salvage contracts," one salvor told TME in a recent interview. 

Negotiations over compensation

The government of Sri Lanka is still in dialogue with the owner and insurer of the X-Press Pearl to reach an agreement on environmental compensation. The vessel spilled tons of plastic nurdles (raw plastic pellets) when it went down, and drifts of the hard-to-remove material came ashore on beaches along the island's west coast. Plastic pellets are a hazard to wildlife if ingested, and their size makes them difficult to clean up. To date, about 650 tonnes of pellets have been removed from Sri Lanka's beaches, thanks to 3,500 man-days of effort, Minister Sabry said. 

An environmental damage assessment for the effects of the sinking is still under way, with foreign assistance, and Minister Sabry said that it would be completed by early January at the latest. At that point, he said that the government will file an additional request for environmental compensation from the shipowner. 

An initial payment of $3.6 million has already been received to help pay for economic impacts, and $1.6 million of this amount has been distributed to fishing communities which were directly affected by pollution from the vessel. 

If the Sri Lankan government cannot reach an agreement with the shipowner for environmental damages, Minister Sabry said, his office is prepared to start legal action.