ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka has recovered a black box, or voyage data recorder of X-Press Pearl, which was destroyed by fire and is sinking off Colombo Port, while police questioned the vessels chief officer on dangerous goods stowage plan.
Colombo Port said marine experts from Sri Lanka’s Merchant Shipping Secretariat with the help of Sri Lanka Navy, had recovered the Voyage Data Recorder.
Police are also probing a fire which destroyed the container vessel X-Press Pearl has questioned the its chief officer extensively on the loading plan of containers, Deputy Inspector General Ajith Rohana said.
“The statement of the chief officer was taken over two days and completed,” DIG Rohana told Sri Lanka’s privately run Siyatha Television.
“It is a very important statement because he is the person responsible for the container plan. He was questioned on locations of the chemical containers, about what was on top and nearby containers.”
Police have questioned 16 of the 25 crew including its captain, chief engineer and deputy chief engineer, he said.
The X-Press Pearl was a 37,000 dead weight tonne container vessel built by Zhoushan Changhong International Shipyard Co. Ltd of China.
It was designed by Marine Design and Research Institute of China (MARIC) and built to DNV GL class.
X-Press Pearl had sought assistance in ‘re-working’ a leaking nitric acid container on May 20, shortly before the first fire started, Colombo Port Harbhour Master Nirmal Silva said.
Colombo Port has said it had the facilities to re-work the container as a hub port. The fire worsened in bad weather and the ship is now partially sunk and is on watch for a possible oil spill.
The vessel could carry 2,700 twenty foot containers, depending on the weight in bays in its holds and on deck.
X-Press Pearl was carrying large volumes of Sodium Hydroxide in solid form in its holds according to available information.
crew had put out the fire using an on board carbon dioxide system, but the fire had re-ignited indicating that there was a leak (it was no air – or water tight), Silva said.
Dangerous goods such as chemicals are loaded on to ships based on the International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code (IMDG code) requirements and are routinely carried in ships.
“When stowage planning is done by each terminal, they have segregation requirements and separation requirements, if not it will show up (in the software),” Colombo Port’s Harbour Master Nirmal Silva told reporters on June 03, when queried on the possibility of a loading conflict.
“I would believe that it was planned in the proper way as required by the IMDG code because that will come up in the stowage planning.”
Dangerous goods are classified into nine classes.
According to available information X-Press Pearl carried Class 03 flammable perfumery products, vinyl acetate, Class 04 flammable solids such as sodium methylate, class 8 Corrosive substances such as sodium hydroxide (caustic soda) in solid form and nitric acid.
Sodium hydoxide releases heat when it dissolves in water.
Others included Class 9 miscellaneous dangerous substances like polymeric beads (which can leak pentane) and lithium batteries.
Dangerous goods types include explosives (Class 01) and gases (02). Goods can be labelled dangerous not just because they are are flammable but also because gasses are under pressure they are are toxic or infectious (Class 06).
Most ships routinely carry dangerous goods, subject to IMDG requirements.
Some classes of goods cannot be carried in holds while others cannot be stowed next to each other.
Terminal operating systems are usually used to track cargo.
“Explosives cannot be stored down below,” Silva explained. “There are so many conditions for each and every class.
“Even within the class there are conditions which are taken into account, when stowage planning is done by the terminal.
“When the terminal plans the stowage and when they give the plan to the ship, the ship’s personnel check on that and confirms it is ok. When they check through their loading program on board it will show up if there is any conflict with dangerous cargoes.”
Shippers (exporters) are expected to correctly declare and label dangerous goods.
Sri Lanka has seen a spike in smuggling and mis-declared cargo following import bans in 2020. A new plastic ban has also gone into effect. Deliberately mis-declaring cargo will also lead to accidents, even if human error was not responsible, an industry analyst said.
No oil leak has been found so far. (Colombo/June06/2021)