Sri Lanka on Thursday announced an investigation into a possible oil spill reported off its west coast where a container ship is submerged after burning for 13 days.
Coastal Conservation Minister Nalaka Godahewa said local experts have been asked to examine an oil area of approximately 0.35 square kilometers (0.13 square miles) where the MV X-Press Pearl is located. was beached earlier this month.
“I visited the area by boat yesterday and what we noticed was a thin film of oil that looked like diesel,” Godahewa told reporters in Colombo. “It didn’t look like bunker oil, but we asked our experts to examine it.”
The X-Press Pearl reported an acid leak on board and caught fire just as it was due to enter Colombo port on May 20.
The fire was extinguished after 13 days, but the stern of the ship touched the bottom of the shallow sea when a tug attempted to move it to deeper water.
Authorities are preparing for a possible oil spill from the submerged wreck or nearly 300 tonnes of bunker fuel still in its fuel tanks.
The shipowners have already deployed representatives from the International Tankers Owners Pollution Federation (ITOPF) and Oil Spill Response (OSR) to monitor any oil spills and help clean up beaches.
Godahewa said five ships, including two Indian Coast Guard vessels equipped to deal with the oil spills, were anchored around the sinking vessel, but none reported a leak from the submerged wreckage.
Tons of microplastic pellets from the ship flooded an 80-kilometer (50-mile) stretch of beach declared off-limits to residents. Fishing in the area has been banned.
Sri Lankan environmentalists last week sued the government and the ship’s operators for allegedly failing to prevent what they called the “worst maritime disaster” in the country’s history.