INDIA. Mumbai: The fire aboard the MV X-Press Pearl which caught fire off the Western coast of Sri Lanka was contained on Friday, with the Indian Coast Guard actively participating in dousing operations, along with the Sri Lankan Navy, for the last few days.
MV X-Press Pearl is a Singaporean container ship built in 2021 which completed voyages to Malaysia, UAE, and Qatar in the initial months. The fire is believed to have started due to a chemical reaction of a Nitric Acid cargo which it had loaded at the port of Hazira, Gujarat in Western India on May 15.
On May 20, 2021, the ship caught fire off Colombo, Sri Lanka. On May 27, 2021, the vessel was engulfed in flames and declared a total loss. While dousing the fire appeared to be successful initially, the fire exploded in intensity on Tuesday and all 25 crew members were evacuated from the ship. The vessel is floating, and the fire was extinguished by the late hours of May 27, 2021, official sources said.
Continuing the fire fighting operations, the Indian Coast Guard (ICG) ships ‘Vaibhav’ and ‘Vajra’ incessantly sprayed foam solution/seawater through a heavy-duty External Fire Fighting system capable of discharging water at the rate of 600 litres per minute. Rough seas and strong winds continued to prevail in the area posing difficulties to fire fighting units. The ICG ships continuously made multiple runs across the length of the ship while going close enough to effectively spray foam/water and at the same time keeping clear of the hanging burned and mangled containers that are at the risk of falling overboard.
The round-the-clock fire-fighting efforts of ICG ships in coordination with tugs deployed by Sri Lanka prevented the fire from re-spreading towards the vessel’s forward part thereby protecting anchor-chain cable arrangement from parting due to weakening from extreme heat.
Aerial assessment of the area carried out by ICG Dornier aircraft on May 28, 2021, revealed no oil spill. Despite the major fire that has been raging on board the vessel since May 25, Tuesday, the hull of the ship is still intact which may be attributed to its double-hulled structure and continuous fire-fighting efforts. No appreciable change in the draught of the ship was noticed.
In addition to 1,486 containers of chemicals and other hazardous International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) code goods, the vessel is also carrying 322 MT fuel. To respond to the possible oil spill from the vessel, ICG ship Samudra Prahari, a specialized Pollution Response vessel, is reaching the scene of the incident by May 29, Saturday from Mumbai.
ICG formations at Kochi, Chennai, and Tuticorin remain on standby for immediate assistance if any, towards pollution response. Continuous coordination is being maintained with Sri Lankan Coast Guard, Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA), and other Sri Lankan authorities for augmenting the overall response operations, ICG statement said.
ICG’s assistance towards dousing aligns with the Neighbourhood First policy of the Government of India which entails responding to the maritime challenges to promote regional prosperity, safety, and sustainable growth in the Indian Ocean Region.