Earlier in the year, you may have heard about hundreds of sea turtles washing up on the coasts of Sri Lanka, and about a shipwreck that was believed to be its cause. That ship’s name was the X-Press Pearl. Now, even after 2 months have passed, the extent of the damage caused remains unknown.
To put things in perspective, the X-Press Pearl sinking is the worst maritime accident to have happened in Sri Lanka’s history. It is also the worst Indian Ocean wreck ever. The reason is simple and deadly. The X-Press Pearl was a toxic vessel.
The Carriage Of The X-Press Pearl
Onboard were 81 containers filled with substances that were hazardous to the environment. There were also 700 containers filled with substances that were active chemically. The amount of toxins released into the ocean is, put simply, astounding. Moreover, a primary assessment concluded that about 8,000 to 13,000 tons of just air pollutants were injected into the wind when the ship was ablaze.
Adding to the list, the X-Press Pearl had 349 containers filled with epoxy resin, 1 container carrying nitric acid, 1 container carrying batteries, and 39 containers carrying all kinds of oil. About 9,800 tons worth of poisonous resin was also being hauled by the ship.
The United Nations Environment Programme said that apart from the toxic polluting chemicals, an estimated 75Bn ‘nurdles’ (tiny plastic pellets) went into the waters. This has resulted in critical pollution levels which could leave Sri Lankan waters reeling for decades.
The MEPA (the body in charge of protecting the Marine ecology) has called into action the coast guard, the air force, and the navy. So far, about 53,000 bags filled with pellets, debris, and burnt plastic have been collected from the sand. This accounts for only 2/5 of the nurdles that were on board the X-Press Pearl.
The ship’s cargo list says that there are at least 49,680 25 kilogram bags as well as 20 containers filled with high and low-density plastic nurdles being carried by the X-Press Pearl. Now, plastic nurdles have been discovered nearly 700km away from the shipwreck.
The Destruction So Far
The exact effect is difficult to calculate since the containers have not yet been located, and the sea may have spread them far and wide. Nevertheless, the area’s Attorney General reported that 8 whales, 48 turtles, and 417 turtles have washed up on the beach, in his latest report. Marine scientists estimate that only about 15% of animal corpses get washed up on shores during incidents like this.
The X-Press Pearl was being towed towards the ocean when it sank on 2nd June. On 8th June, the wreck emanated a visible oil sheen. To date, the vessel has remained where it has sunk. However, Sri Lanka has employed a team of experts from all over the world to remove the X-Press Pearl’s hull as soon as possible. Resolve Marine is currently in charge of the site.
The shipwreck is under constant monitoring by drones as well as submersibles.
However, the environmental damage is not all. An initial $40Mn was claimed by the Sri Lankan government from the insurer to pay for the damage. However, it has since been refuted on the claims of not having enough evidence. Instead, only $3.6Mn is being offered. Fishermen along the coastlines are losing Rs. 80Mn daily, with Rs. 300Mn in fish exports already canceled. They have been without any income for almost 3 months now.
Sadly, science and governmental action are dragging their feet in getting the case together. As a result, the majority of the work is being done by international conservation organizations. As a result, starting from 20th May 2021, the X-Press Pearl is continuing to silently kill, pollute, and devastate the ecology of the area.