Sri Lanka Files Initial $40M Claim Over X-Press Pearl Fire

x-press pearl
The X-Press Pearl on June 2 (Courtesy Sri Lankan Air Force)

Published Jun 13, 2021 4:34 PM by The Maritime Executive

The government of Sri Lanka has sent an "interim claim" to the operator of the burnt-out container ship X-Press Pearl, requesting $40 million for response costs accrued through June 1 - the day before the vessel partially sank off Colombo. 

The full damages resulting from the discharge of the vessel's cargo on and after June 2 are still being assessed, and a pollution claim may be in addition to the emergency-response costs, according to ports and shipping minister Rohitha Abeygunawardena. 

A criminal inquiry is under way as well: Sri Lanka's Criminal Investigation Department (CID) has questioned the X-Press Pearl's chief engineer, second engineer and captain about their knowledge of the events leading up to the disaster. The crew was aware of a leaking container of nitric acid in the hold before the ship called at Port Hamad, Qatar on May 11, according to the Lanka Sunday Times. Port Hamad and the vessel's following port of call, Port Hazira, refused to allow the leaking container to be offloaded. Nine days later, cargo in that hold caught fire as X-Press Pearl was waiting for a berth at Port Colombo. 

The cargo spill from the vessel has created economic costs: a regional fishing ban was imposed along a 50-mile length of coastline, creating hardship for artisanal fishermen. A substantial fraction of the waste has been substantially cleared off the beaches and the ban has since been lifted, and about 9,900 fishermen affected by the pollution from the vessel will receive an allowance of $25 beginning June 15, according to local media. 

No signs of oil pollution

Salvors, Sri Lankan officials and satellite imaging providers have identified a "gray sheen" emanating from the half-sunk wreck of the X-Press Pearl. However, X-Press Feeders noted Saturday that there are "no confirmed reports of fuel oil pollution" from the vessel. 

"Discoloration of the sea has been apparent since the vessel's stern became submerged and the remnants of the cargo in the 1486 containers that were onboard were exposed to water," the firm said in a statement. "Inspections thus far by Sri Lankan Navy divers have found no evidence of a breach to the ships fuel oil tanks, and observations from the salvors who remain on scene with the Sri Lankan Navy and Indian Coast Guard are there has been no noticeable fuel oil spill."

Pollution control assets from the Indian Coast Guard are standing by to provide containment if deemed necessary, and representatives of the International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation (ITOPF) are monitoring updates from the scene. The salvage team has not yet announced plans for fuel lightering, hot-tapping or other risk-mitigation options.