International
The Independent / Groundviews

Int'l - An Avoidable Environmental Catastrophe: Where Did It Go Wrong?

Sri Lanka is currently experiencing the greatest marine disaster in its history caused by the burning and sinking of the MV X-Press Pearl in the shallow waters less than 10 nautical miles north of Colombo Harbour.

Sri Lanka is currently experiencing the greatest marine disaster in its history caused by the burning and sinking of the MV X-Press Pearl in the shallow waters less than 10 nautical miles north of Colombo Harbour. It is the second calamity in less than a year, both similar nature, involving ships carrying dangerous materials. Almost a week passed before the list of materials onboard was shared with the public. Was it given to the firefighting team, and if so, at what point was it given? Had that cargo list been made available at the very outset, firefighting efforts might have been strategised better, provided that the right experts with common sense were in charge.

Past outcomes

The chemical leak from the MT Granba was an almost identical event to the X-Press Pearl disaster, the main differences being in how they were handled and resolved. The Granba was a Turkish chemical tanker that in 2009 anchored six nautical miles away from Foul Point, Trincomalee, following a leak from its cargo of 6,250 metric tons of sulfuric acid. The Sri Lankan Navy and the shipping company’s rescue operators rescued 19 members of the ship’s crew and towed the ship more than 60 nautical miles away to an almost 3,000m depth, where it finally sank. Just a little over Rs. 15 million was paid as criminal and civil liabilities. Both X-Press Pearl and Granba carried highly nitric and sulfuric corrosive acids. However, X-Press Pearl carried other hazardous chemicals together with the cargo of nitric acid, including caustic soda (sodium hydroxide) and sodium methoxide – chemicals that can create extreme heat and combust on contact with any reactive substance including water – and many other hazardous materials as well.

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