An Echelon Media Company
Friday July 30th, 2021

X-Press Pearl fire orgin is still a mystery, Sri Lanka official says

ECONOMYNEXT – An investigation is needed to find whether there was a link between an acid leak on a container on deck and a fire which took place in a hold of the ill-fated MV X-Press Pearl belowdecks, while anchored off Sri Lanka, an official said.

“People are speculating that this (acid leak) led to the fire,” Colombo Harbhour Master Captain Nirmal de Silva told reporters.

“Actually this (leaking container) was on deck. The fire started in the Number 02 hold. There will be investigations done by surveyors. It could be a coincidence.

X-Press Pearl had found a leaking container while in the Arabian Sea and had asked Hamad Port in Qatar and Hazira Port in India to offload it but the request had been denied saying they had no facilities.

The ship had arrived in Colombo late night on May 19 and had been anchored waiting for a slot at Colombo International Container Terminal, run by China’s CM Ports.

The acid was leaking probably due to incorrect packaging, an X-Press Feeders official had said.

At around 1000am a request had been made by email to ‘re-work’ the container.

De Silva said Colombo Port had the facilities to help the ship.

“This is not an out of the way thing,” de Silva said. “Sometimes containers which are discharged for transshipment also we get these leaks.

“We do these re-work operations taking into account precautions that need to be taken, depending on the danger of that chemical. All that is given in the safety data sheets.”

“We also have an obligation to help. We are a maritime hub, so we should be able to assist and facilitate with services that go with it.”

Shortly after the re-work request was made the ship had reported a fire in the hold and later said it had been put out.

De Silva said ships had their own fire extinguishing systems, involving pumping carbon dioxide into the hold which is usually a reliable way to extinguish a fire belowdecks.

However the fire had later re-ignited and the vessel had called for help.

Possibly the hold was not fully sealed and the CO2 may have leaked, de Silva said.

Colombo Port had then dispatched its fire tug.

Sri Lanka also had a legal obligation to assist vessels in distress.

“When someone is in distress, and requesting assistance, we have to provide that assistance to save lives property and our marine environment,” de Silva said.

The incident had occurred within Sri Lanka’s search and rescue (SAR) region under the Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre, where the Navy had been empowered to provide the services, he said.

The owners had sent a team from SMIT Salvage and also called in the multipurpose tug Posh Teal which had arrived within 6 hours.

But bad weather had fanned the flames, driving the blaze out of control.

Sri Lanka’s Minister of State Minister of Urban Development, Coast Conservation Nalaka Godahewa said out of the 1,400 odd containers in the ship, over 500 were destined for Colombo.

It was the third call at Colombo of the newly built vessel which was delivered in February 2021. The first call at Colombo was March 17 and it had left on March 18. The second call was on 17 April and left on 18 April.

As of May 28, the fire was confined to the stern of X-Press Pearl. Most of the cargo believed to have been destroyed Minister Godahewa said. (Colombo/May28/2021)

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