Firefighting continues on ravaged X-Press Pearl as Sri Lanka assesses widespread environmental damage

Firefighting operations continued for a seventh day Thursday on the badly burnt 2,700 teu X-Press Pearl, with some hopeful signs in the afternoon off Colombo as the smoke from the ship turned from pitch black to white, suggesting the worst of the blaze had been doused for now.

The ship, carrying 25 tons of nitric acid among 1,486 containers it was taking from the Middle East to Singapore, first alerted Colombo Port to a fire onboard last Thursday.

Sri Lankan authorities warned that the ship could sink today, as well as urging locals to keep away from potentially toxic debris washing up on the nation’s shores.

The vessel, anchored outside Colombo harbour, is carrying 278 tonnes of bunker oil and 50 tonnes of marine gasoil.

The fire is believed to have started in a container of poorly packaged nitric acid.

Sri Lanka’s Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA) also warned today of the risk of acid rain falling across the island after a week’s worth of dangerous nitrogen oxide gas has been spewing into the atmosphere from the burning ship.

The crew of the boxship are now in quarantine after one of the team was found to have Covid-19.

Politicians faced criticism today for allowing the ship to call after it was not allowed to offload leaking boxes in India and Qatar.

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. Two ports refused for entry to address the chemical leakage from that vessel and pushed the crew lives, environment and property in danger. This issues should need to address by the IMO by their own investigation immediately.

    1. You are quite right. But given the clout that Qatar and India have at the IMO, it won’t be.

  2. Once again, a nightmarish but avoidable disaster! Very fortunate that all human lives are safe . As long as human lives at sea are treated as expendable (which seems to have now been easily accepted in the shipping industry key players and their servants) the environment and property will be directly impacted. Investigations will always stop at the poor Master who may get coerced to sign any document to save a severe personal hit . IMO and local bodies must investigate independently for the source of such accidents.

  3. Sri Lanaka Navy could easily handle the fire but due to political pressures they abandoned the task.the country need dollars by any means

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