OCEAN FLAMES; Burning Tragedy of the X-Press Pearl Cargo Ship and Ocean Pollution

Sri Lanka: the pearl of the Indian Ocean, is an island of diverse coastal and terrestrial ecosystems which is surrounded by the blue ocean. For this reason, it is more exposed and being vulnerable to coastal issues. One of them is ocean pollution, which is a major growing issue in today’s world. Ocean pollution has two types: they are chemical contamination and marine trash. Human activities such as farming, usage of chemical fertilizers for local farms, and discharging them into waterways and which ends up in oceans, while increasing the chemical contamination of Nitrogen and Phosphorus in the ocean. It can be toxic to aquatic species & plants as well as to human beings through bio accumulation of them. It has adversely affected the local fishing and tourism industry of the country. Accumulation of marine waste poses another long-lasting harmful threat to marine life with plastic waste. Pieces of plastics that break down into micro-plastics become the food for small marine organisms and eventually, they have become part of the food chain. Or else the turtles and fish species are getting tangled up and being injured by plastic or polythene debris.

Marine Pollution, Ocean Acidification, Overfishing and Overuse of Marine Resources

The Disaster of Marine Pollution | Photo By : sundayobserver.lk


The recent tragedy that happened in Sri Lanka’s coastal zone regarding the X-Press Pearl Cargo ship was one of the worst ecological disasters in the country’s history. The Effect of the environmental damage which occurred due to the burnt and sunken cargo ship will remain for decades and cannot be quantified in Dollars. Apart from the 325 metric tons of fuel, the ship was carrying 25 tons of hazardous Nitric acid, Sodium Dioxide, Copper, and Lead. Cargo ship sank with the stacked containers, containing highly dangerous chemicals to marine biodiversity. In addition to that, tons of tiny plastic pellets called ‘Nurdles’ which are applied for the production of all kinds of plastic products have been washed up into the local beaches by the ocean currents and polluted not only the country’s seashores but even the shores that are hundreds of kilometers away from the disaster. Investigations have suggested that the 40% of plastics aboard the burnt ship had already been washed ashore while the rest remains on the seabed. However, plastic might be the most dangerous because it takes between 500- 1000 years to decompose.

Seashore Pollution by Plastic Pellets and Debris, X-Press Pearl Burning Tragedy

Seashores Polluted by Plastic Pellets and Debris | Photo By : Eranga Jayawardena
Besides the environmental threats, a considerable amount of marine life including sea turtles, dolphins, and whales have been washed up with swollen bellies and pellets stuck gills. Other than that, due to the chemical poisoning, the small fish might die easily, but bigger ones feeding on smaller fish will slowly accumulate the toxins in their bodies over time and lead to bio-accumulation which will be a serious problem in near future. Fish breeding grounds in the coral reefs have been destroyed due to the chemicals and there are consequences on the livelihood of local fisherman communities as well.
X- Press Pearl Cargo Ship Burning Tragedy
The Destructive Fire of the Vessel | Photo By: Sri Lanka Air Force
However, the X-Press Pearl disaster emphasizes the dangers of shipping hazardous cargoes and the importance of preparing for such disaster situations as a country that is located in a maritime hub in the Indian Ocean. People need to be educated about such crisis and raising awareness is a must to prevent such disasters in the future and to keep our oceans clean and healthy.