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The crew of the X-Press Pearl have been evacuated after a fire which has burned on board the ship since last week exploded in intensity.
Photos released by the Sri Lanka Ports Authority and Air Force show the ship’s cargo engulfed in flames.
The fire was first reported last Thursday, May 20, as the ship was awaiting entry to Colombo harbor at an offshore anchorage approximately 9.5 nautical miles from the entrance to the port.
The Sri Lankan Navy previously said the ship is loaded with 1,486 containers, including 25 tons of Nitric Acid and other chemicals which it had loaded at the port of Hazira, India on May 15. Preliminary investigations indicate the fire started due to a chemical reaction of the hazardous cargo.
The ship’s operator, X-Press Feeders, reported Monday that the fire was under control as fire-fighting continued.
A salvage team from SMIT has arrived on-site and was previously able to board the vessel for an inspection.
With these latest developments, all 25 crew members and the salvage team have all now been evacuated from the ship.
The Sri Lankan Navy reports that the fire, which was exacerbated by strong winds, is now spreading towards the bridge.
An Indian Coast Guard Maritime Pollution Preventive Ship is expected to arrive overnight while aircraft with fire suppressant and oil dispersants has been put on standby.
“Also, due to the rough seas caused by the prevailing bad weather, the ship is now poised with a starboard list (lean to the right). As a result, some of the containers onboard have tumbled into the sea and some of which are believed to have sunk in waters. As such, the Navy cautions the fishing community engaging in fishing in the area to avoid this particular sea area,” the Navy said in an update on Tuesday.
The latest update from X-Press Feeders said special fire-fighting equipment has now arrived from Europe:
“X – Press Feeders, disponent owners / operators and managers of the container ship ‘X-Press Pearl’ (IMO: 9875343), report that all crew members were safely evacuated today from the vessel, after the fire incident on board the vessel.
“Despite the best efforts of salvors and firefighting tugs, the blaze had spread overnight, fanned by strong winds. With the crew’s safety of utmost importance to X-Press Feeders, the decision was made to evacuate them.
“X-Press Feeders will continue to work closely with the Sri Lankan authorities and emergency services with assistance from its appointed salvors to extinguish the blaze and to save the vessel and its cargo. Specialised firefighting equipment which arrived from Europe will join the salvaging operations.
“The families of all the crew members have been advised of the safe evacuation of the respective crew, and we will continue to update them of any further developments. X-Press Feeders will continue to liaise with customers with regard to their containers onboard the vessel.”
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