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Friday June 18th, 2021

Sri Lanka in biggest ever nurdle hunt after X-Press Pearl spill, volunteer hunters arrested

OPERATION NURDLE: Sri Lanka Air Force personnel mopping up plastic granules spilled from X-Press Pearl

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s state authorities are engaged in the biggest nurdle hunt in the country’s history following a spill from X-Press Pearl though at least eight volunteer hunters have been arrested by police probably in the world’s first, amid a Coronavirus lockdown.

Nurdles, little plastic pellets the size of a lentil or wheat grain is the raw material used in factories to mould plastic goods and polythene sheets.

Tonnes of the white nurdles have turned up on the beaches of Sri Lanka after several containers toppled off X-Press Pearl when a fire blazed through the ship amid gusting winds and the stricken vessel developed a list.

Police arrested at least eight nurdle hunters who took sacks of nurdles before they broke up. Some braved possible chemical contamination of seawater from the burning vessel to take the plastic granules out, visuals showed.

Sri Lanka had planned to deal with debris from the ship, Chairman of Sri Lanka’s Central Environment Siripala Amarasinghe Authority told reporters, though, on the first day, members of the public unexpectedly jumped into the effort.

The clean up was progressing well now he said.

“The honour should go to the tri-force who helped us and also the general public,” he said. “Because in the first 24 hours – rather unfortunately on the 26th – members of the public disregarding government requests not to approach the debris, they got into this for their private reasons.

“So we had to stop that by making appeals.”

The clean up was deployed in earnest from June 27. He said Sri Lanka’s Coast Conservation Department and Sri Lanka’s military also assisted by CEA officials had recovered all debris.

Among the debris were seen 25-kilogram plastic granules made by Qatar-based Qapco.

Television visuals showed volunteer salvors taking away 25 kg packs of latrine branded polyethene granules made by Qatar-based Qapco.

Oil-producing nations are key producers of plastics. The granules or nurdles can accidentally spill during transport. Plastic pellet containers are usually carried on deck for safety.

Police said at least eight nurdle hunters or in maritime terminology volunteer salvors were arrested. Volunteer salvors belong to a long tradition in seafaring.

A claim has to be submitted to the receiver of the wreck who may give part of the salvaged items to the volunteer salvor. If the danger is high, a large portion may be given, analysts familiar with international practice say.


Cargo rush: Sri Lanka police arrest eight for collecting debris off a burning container ship

Amarasena said about 34 containers of debris were so far collected by Sri Lanka authorities and there was also sand in them and it was too early to give a count.

Environmentalist jargon generally refers to nurdles not in tonnes or kilograms, but in hundreds of millions or billions of pellets.

In September 2020, a 743 million nurdle spill was calculated in the Mississippi River.


Nurdle spill cleanup is ‘too little, too late’ as plastic pellets continue to spread, gather in drifts

Nurdle spill covers South African beaches in plastic

In Sri Lankan social media numbers such as several billions of nurdles have been mentions.

It is not clear what happened to the eight arrested nurdle hunters in the X-Pearl disaster.

However, they could also estimate the number of nurdles collected based on the likely number in a 25-kilogram bag and submit it to the website, which is supported by

The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Organization have provided guidance to, a community website where nurdle hunters could submit their finds after they are released from custody observers say.


The Nurdle Patrol: Citizen Scientists Fight Pollution, One Pellet at a Time

The nurdle hunters could put themselves on the map and possibly set 2021 by entering the data by estimating likely nurdles in a 25 kg pack into the website. (Colombo/June04/2021)

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