The  team of experts that looked at the environmental damage from the MV X- Press Pearl disaster earlier this year has identified two immediate risks that have to be eliminated. They are a sudden major oil spill of the fuel which is still on board the ship and pollution and navigational hazards from the wreck and lost containers.

‘The event continues to unfold and its active pollution generation phase will only come to a closure with the elimination of risks from the wreck and containers lost at sea’.

The X-Press Pearl incident has been Sri Lanka’s worst maritime disaster to date.  According to the team it has had a significant impact on the country’s sensitive coastal environment, local communities and economy.

The team comprised Hassan Partow from the United Nations Environment Programme, Camille Lacroix, a marine litter and chemical expert from the Centre of Documentation, Research and Experimentation on Accidental Water Pollution (CEDRE), Stephane Le Floch, an oil and HNS expert also from CEDRE and Luigi Alcaro who is a specialist in oil and marine environment from the National Institute for Environmental Protection and Research (Italy).

In their 70- page report dated July 2021 they write that proactive vigilant surveillance to remove the wreck can mitigate the risks but that it should be done as soon as conditions allow.

‘Action has to be taken to contain and recover the limited but continuous release of oil from the wreck and plans have to be initiated to remove the wreck, lost containers and debris as a matter of priority.’  They underscore that the roadmap for what they call the ‘major’ decommissioning of the project should be done collectively and transparently.

In addition to suggestions on mitigating and eliminating risks from the incident, the team also make recommendations for plastic pollution clean-up, environmental assessment and monitoring and strengthening maritime disaster management capacity.

While commending the clean- up of the plastic spill, they say it should be more effective. Action points that have been given to enhance efficacy are contamination analysis of the plastic waste to determine if its hazardous or not, defining and scaling-up clean-up techniques that minimize sand abstraction and the recovery of small burnt particles and establishing technical specifications to complete microplastic clean-up operations.

For environmental assessment and monitoring, they recommend addressing key questions on the socio- economic implications of the disaster such as determining whether the fish in the ‘no fishing area’ is safe to eat and when the moratorium on fishing should be lifted. The reported spike in turtle and marine mammal deaths linked to the incident has also been flagged as an area which should be looked at. The Sri Lankan government’s position is that around 390 turtles have died from the incident.

A biomonitoring program to monitor the status of sensitive marine ecosystems such as coral reefs around the area of the wreck is also among their recommendations.

The X-Press Pearl incident has once again highlighted the need for a more resilient system to prevent and respond to maritime disasters in the future.  The recommendations for this include developing a maritime disaster plan based on the National Oil Spill Contingency Plan, strengthening the institutional basis for its implementation and undertaking a capacity building programme.

On 25 May a fire broke out on board the X-Press Pearl while it was anchored about nine nautical miles northwest of the Port of Colombo in Sri Lanka’s national waters. It was reported to have been carrying close to 1500 containers of dangerous and other cargo at the time of the fire which is suspected to have originated in the barrels of nitric acid it was carrying.

The X-Press Pearl incident was preceded by a number of othersincluding the MT New Diamond in September last year.  The New Diamond was transporting around two million barrels of crude oil when a fire broke out in the engine room when it was 65 kilometres off Sangaman Kanda Point along the east coast of Sri Lanka.  After burning intermittently for almost a week, the fire was finally extinguished but not before the waters around it were spiked with a diesel oil spill of about 1 km long. It too prompted calls for better disaster preparedness.

To read the full MV X-Press Pearl disaster report click on


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