A giant container ship carrying chemicals caught fire on Friday, May 21, and has been stuck in flames off the coast of Sri Lanka for seven days straight.
Five tugboats, a Sri Lankan Navy ship, and the Sri Lanka Air Force are all battling the flames that have spread across the ship, from the forecastle area to the quarterdeck, where the ship’s bridge is located, according to the Sri Lanka Navy.
When the fire started, the ship was anchored about 9.5 nautical miles (18 km) off the coast of Colombo, waiting to enter the port.
On Tuesday, May 25, an explosion happened after four days of raging fire. According to AFP, all 25 crew members of the ship, as well as firefighters and salvage personnel, were evacuated, with just one brought to the hospital for minor injuries.
The crew members include Filipinos, Chinese, Indians, and Russians.
What caused the fire to start?
The Navy believes the fire was started by some of the chemicals being transported in the 1,486 containers aboard the Singapore-flagged ship. According to the Associated Press, they contained several dangerous chemicals, including 25 tons of nitric acid, and were all loaded on May 15 in India at Hazira Port.
Several containers, as well as portions of the ship, have fallen into the water, and while crews battle the raging flames, officials are concerned about the environmental effects of such a flame and debris.
The Sri Lanka Navy stated that they and the Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA) are paying special attention to the debris washing onto Sri Lanka’s neighboring coasts to analyze the situation and maintain a tight check on things. The Navy has established a specific security arrangement with the Sri Lanka Coast Guard to assess the coastal environment and local inhabitants who may come into contact with a harmful material.
When transporting harmful materials such as oil, or in this case nitric acid, container ships face significant problems; the consequences can be disastrous not just for the crew’s lives but also for the environment. A Japanese ship spilled oil near Mauritius eight months ago, causing an ecological disaster in the island’s turquoise waters, with an alarming number of dead dolphins and whales pouring ashore.
Recently, the Ever Given container ship clogged the Suez Canal for over a week, generating massive backlogs of other ships and costing businesses billions of dollars in delays.
Mariners receive extensive training, and some even travel to training sites such as Port Revel in France, which recreates smaller replica container ships and specialized canals, such as the Suez Canal, for mariners to practice.
Unfortunately, sometimes that isn’t enough, and accidents occur. Fortunately, the whole crew of the MV X-PRESS was safely evacuated, but who knows what long-term effects the fire would have on the surrounding environment?