More than 14 months after the X-Press Pearl was lost nearly 10 nautical miles off Colombo, Sri Lanka the clean-up continues with additional insurance compensation being paid out to the country to be used to compensate fishermen that lost their work due to the wreck. At the same, the government is continuing its legal claims while reporting it expects it will be years before all the cleanup is completed.
The containership X-Press Pearl caught fire while anchored off Colombo in May 2021. The fire burned for nearly two weeks and when salvage teams attempted to tow the vessel out to deep water it sunk, contributing to the largest environmental disaster in Sri Lanka’s history. Millions of pounds of nurdles, a small plastic pellet used in the production of plastic, were dumped into the ocean and washed up on the country’s beaches.
Minister of Fisheries Douglas Devananda of Sri Lanka reported that it has received the third and largest interim payment from the insurance company. The payment recently sent to the ministry totaled approximately $2.5 million. They had previously received two interim payments, each valued at just under $1 million. To date, the insurance company has provided a total of nearly $3.6 million in interim payments. The ministry reports they are being dispersed to more than 15,000 fishermen that are unable able to fish in four western regions of the country.
Speaking about the clean-up, the ministry said it has spent more than $260,000 on the beach clean-up to date and expects it will continue for years. The Marine Environment Protection Agency reports that it continues to consult with other agencies and receive legal advice on the process. So far, they have removed more than 1,600 metric tons of nurdles and chemicals released from the ship, all of which is being stored while they continue to receive legal advice on the country’s damage claims.
The plastic pollution and other chemicals continue to spread with the ministry saying the clean-up remains very complex. Part of the challenge stems from the range of pollutants involved, which includes oil, hazardous chemicals, and plastics, as well as the lack of clarity regarding the nature and status of a substantial part of the vessel’s cargo. Clearance of the wreck will only be the first step in the clean-up.
Work to remove sections of the X-Press Pearl is due to resume later this year after the current monsoon season. Starting late last year, loose debris was being removed while a survey was completed of the seafloor and the first stage of the wreck removal began. The salvage team reported the vessel has cracked midships, which resulted in a change to the salvage plan. They were attaching lifting wires under the hull earlier this year and working to remove the accommodation block.
The next phase of the salvage project will focus on splitting the wreck entirely into two sections and preparing for the lifting of each section. The goal is to lift the wreck with a lifting barge for removal in early 2023. The sections, cargo remaining aboard, and any other cargo and debris will be recovered from the bottom with a goal of completing the project by September 2023. The owners of the ship, X-Press Feeders, contracted with Shanghai Salvage Company for the removal of the wreck, and all the debris will be properly treated and recycled.