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Sri Lanka Seeks to Expedite Removal of X-Press Pearl

removal of the wreck of the X-Press Pearl off Sri Lanka
The hulk of the X-Press Pearl is sitting on the seafloor outside Colombo (Indian Navy)

Published Aug 4, 2021 4:17 PM by The Maritime Executive

The government of Sri Lanka is working to expedite the removal of the wreck of the containership X-Press Pearl from its shores while also continuing its efforts to monitor for environmental pollution and damage as well as to receive compensation. A report from the government committee formed to investigate the damages and oversee the salvage operations details efforts that are expected to continue into 2022.

According to a copy of the report obtained by the Sri Lankan news outlet News First, the wreck removal arrangements are being coordinated with the government of Singapore, where the vessel was registered, along with the vessel’s owners, and the Sri Lankan High Commission in Singapore. The authorities in Singapore reported that a removal plan is being developed in consultation with a group of salvage experts, naval architects, and salvage engineers. Among the efforts that are underway is a modeling of the undersea area and topography in the area around the wreck. The X-Press Pearl settled and remains sitting upright on the seafloor partially exposed above sea level. The information gathered is being used to formulate a methodology for the removal of the hulk. 

The international salvage experts and P&I Club have advised that the removal should not begin until the current monsoon weather season has passed. However, the Sri Lankan authorities are negotiating to expedite the removal process.

In the meantime, an oil sheen has been seen coming from the wreck, but after consultation with the experts, the decision has been made not to use chemicals to treat the sheen. The experts suggested that the chemicals are more dangerous and that the current thin sheen dissolves in the environment. However, chemicals and equipment to fight a more substantial oil spill remain on standby while teams continue to monitor the wreck.

Drones and underwater vehicles are being used to monitor the X-Press Pearl and the Marine Environmental Protection Authority in Sri Lanka is receiving twice-daily reports. Resolve Marine has been hired as the interim caretaker on site and Sri Lanka Navy divers have also surveyed the wreck.

Using a side-scan survey undertaken by the Indian Navy and the National Aquatic Resources Research and Development Agency, details are being assembled on the scope of the damage to the two main fishing areas. The vessel’s insurers have also hired a survey company to undertake a broader scan of the area. More than 175 square miles however remains closed to all fishing.

On shore, they also continue to do daily surveys of the coast looking for pollution. To date, the report says they have collected 889 metric tons of waste, which was packed into 42 containers and 1,200 jumbo bags. Teams, however, continue to find pollution and specifically the plastic packing materials that were being transported on the X-Press Pearl.

Sri Lanka has assembled an international team, including the U.S. law firm of Arent Fox, to assist with its compensation claims. To date, two interim claims have been filed, and the country has received approximately $3.6 million as part of a first interim payment.

The X-Press Pearl was transporting 1,486 containers from the Middle East with stops in India and Sri Lanka during its voyage to Singapore. A cargo fire was discovered on May 20 and despite initial success, the fire re-ignited and consumed the three-month-old vessel. Fire teams from Sri Lanka, India, and private resources spent more than a week fighting the fire, but the vessel sunk off Colombo after the government ordered an attempt to move it from the anchorage to deep water. The resulting environmental damage is considered to be the worst in Sri Lanka’s history and expected it is expected to take years to recover.