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Sri Lanka testing waters around sunken cargo ship for potential oil spill as microplastics wash up on its shores

SRI LANKAN authorities have begun testing the waters around a sinking cargo ship to try to determine whether oil is leaking from it, officials said today as microplastics continue to wash up on its shores.

Results of the tests taken on Thursday by the Marine Environment Protection Authority are still pending, the country’s Environment Minister said.

The tests were prompted by satellite images which showed a substance that could be oil in the water near the Singapore-flagged MV X-Press Pearl, which was devastated by a nearly two-week fire before it started sinking last week.

The fire destroyed most of the ship’s cargo, which included 25 tons of nitric acid and other chemicals. 

But debris, including burnt fibreglass and tons of plastic pellets, have already polluted nearby beaches and there are concerns that a spill of remaining chemicals and oil on the ship could devastate marine life.

The ship’s operator, X-Press Feeders, said in a statement on Thursday night that “a grey sheen has been observed emanating from the vessel, and water samples are currently being tested.”

The fire erupted on May 20 when the ship was anchored at about 9.5 nautical miles north-west of Colombo and waiting to enter Sri Lanka’s main port. The navy believes that the blaze was caused by its chemical cargo.

The fire burnt for 12 days before being extinguished last week. It then started sinking and attempts to tow it into deeper waters failed when the ship’s stern sank to the seabed.

Commenting on the environmental disaster last week, Greenpeace said: “Plastic is not just an ocean and waste problem. From the beginning of its lifecycle all the way to its end, plastic is a climate, health and social justice issue.”


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