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Prosectors probe deleted emails as X-Press Pearl court hearing gets underway

State prosecutors in Sri Lanka are accusing X-Press Feeders and its parent, Sea Consortium, of a cover-up as court proceedings get underway in Colombo looking into the blaze and sinking of the 2,700 teu X-Press Pearl in local waters, something that has been repeatedly described as one of the worst ecological disasters to hit the island.

State prosecutors alleged yesterday that Sea Consortium Lanka, the local agent for the ship, deleted key emails.

The Singapore-registered X-Press Pearl reported an onboard acid leak to its representative Sea Consortium Lanka nine days prior to the ship entering Sri Lankan waters, but the agent failed to alert authorities in Columbo, the state prosecutor said.

Emails between Sea Consortium and the Russian master of the X-Press Pearl, Tyutkalo Vitaly, had been wiped, the prosecutor claimed. The court has demanded X-Press Feeders locate these missing emails from mail servers overseas.

Ports in Qatar and India had earlier refused to offload a leaking acid container which had been loaded onboard the three-month-old ship in Jebel Ali, Dubai.

Investigators are also going through the ship’s voyage data recorder (VDR), which divers managed to retrieve over the weekend.

The X-Press Pearl’s sad fate is the latest in a disappointing recent and persistent catalogue of container ship fires of varying degrees of severity, which occur on an almost weekly basis. The vast majority of these are initiated by a cargo of a hazardous nature. One estimate puts the number of mis- or undeclared dangerous cargoes in excess of 150,000 containers a year – each of which has disastrous potential.

While still to be fully investigated, the catalyst for the inferno on the X-Press Pearl has been asserted to be a leakage of nitric acid, which was correctly declared but apparently incorrectly packaged or packed. There were around 25 tonnes packed on the 1,486 laden containers on the ship, as well as many tonnes of microplastics which have been washing on Sri Lanka’s western shorelines over the past fortnight.

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.

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