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Sri Lankan Police Arrest Captain of Sunken Boxship X-Press Pearl

Sri lanka
Still smoking, the X-Press Pearl partially sinks off Colombo, June 2 (Sri Lankan Navy)

Published Jun 14, 2021 10:14 PM by The Maritime Executive

The master of the sunken container ship X-Press Pearl, Capt. Vitaly Tyutkalo, has been arrested by Sri Lankan authorities and released on bail in connection with the disastrous fire aboard the ship.

Local police told the AFP that Tyutkalo has not been charged, but he may yet face charges under Sri Lanka's Marine Pollution Prevention Act. At the hearing, he was released on a personal bond of about $10,000 and banned from traveling; his passport has already been seized by the authorities. 

The newly-built container feeder X-Press Pearl caught fire while at anchor off the coast of Colombo, Sri Lanka on May 20. The fire started belowdecks in Hold 2, and despite initial signs of success in firefighting efforts, it spread to the deck cargo and engulfed the ship. 

On June 2, as salvors attempted to tow the burned wreck further away from the coast, its stern slowly sank and came to rest on the bottom. The bow remained afloat and stable. 

The events of the fire and sinking released a portion of the vessel's cargo, including large quantities of plastic pellets. So far, responders have cleaned up about 1,200 tonnes of debris and filled 45 shipping containers with the detritus, according to Sri Lankan media.

After the casualty, Sri Lanka's Criminal Investigation Department (CID) questioned Capt. Tyutkalo, the chief engineer and second engineer about 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 Sri Lanka Sunday Times. Port Hamad refused to allow the leaking container to be offloaded, and Port Hazira - the next port of call - made the same decision. Nine days later, cargo in the affected hold caught fire as X-Press Pearl was waiting for a berth at Port Colombo.