Explosion rocks X-Press Pearl, all crew evacuated as Sri Lanka prepares for the worst

The situation on the X-Press Pearl deteriorated dramatically today. The three-month old, 2,700 teu ship, carrying 25 tons of nitric acid, caught fire on Thursday off Colombo Port with Sri Lanka deploying aircraft and navy vessels to assist in firefighting.

This morning the vessel suffered an explosion, all crew have evacuated and at least eight containers, some feared to be containing acid, have tumbled into the sea, with authorities issuing swimming bans nearby.

With the vessel now in a dire state, an operation is underway to try and move it 50 nautical miles away from the shoreline. High winds in the area are also fanning the flames into a greater inferno.

Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.


  1. R.I.P. X-Press Pearl
    Have read several times the following publication once it was made available on the web:

    Safety Considerations for Ship Operators Related to Risk‐Based Stowage of Dangerous Goods on Containerships Part One
    and available under this link:

    Good read indeed.

    However, it seems to me the good advise does not work as evidenced by the next floating pyre.

    Despite very good intentions of Authors , one could not shake the impression ,They forgot about the effect of WIND versus vsl mobility or rather “immobility” under such distress.

    Examining the pictures of proposed “safe stows” in this publication , those who care to read it, are invited to look carefully at item RZ4-FLAMMABLE, OXIDIZING AND TOXIC cargo stowed on 1.twin island, 2 standard single island, 3 feeder single island .

    Then…………imagine fire of item RZ4 , huge billowing smoke, poisonous fumes ,toxic gases -the whole shebang and impose on such a dreadful scenario different wind directions and how it may affect the living quarters.

    Not to mention item RZ5 “explosives” close to ME spaces in 1 & 2 stows. But I may be wrong and really miss something.

    I am not sure, but as long as misdeclared IMDG is on board , the concept of “safe stow” is a pure fantasy

    1. It’s always easy to comment on events after they happen. Noone considers the fatigue level and the pressure of operator and the crew being recruited.

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