COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – Experts retrieve the data logger from a fire-ravaged ship carrying chemicals slowly sinking off the Sri Lankan capital, as rescue teams stood ready to respond possible environmental disaster, officials said on Sunday.
The Singapore-flagged MV X-Press Pearl began to sink on Wednesday, a day after authorities extinguished a fire that raged on the ship for 12 days. Efforts to tow the ship into deeper water away from Colombo port had failed after the ship’s stern was submerged and rested on the seabed.
The Sri Lanka Ports Authority said experts and the navy recovered the ship’s voyage data recorder, or VDR, commonly known as a black box, on Saturday.
The authority said on its website that the VDR, which contains vital information related to the ship’s operation, would be turned over to local law enforcement investigating the blaze.
The authority and the operator of the vessel said the aft portion of the vessel remained on the seabed at a depth of approximately 70 feet and the forward portion continued to slowly stabilize.
Operator X-Press Feeders said rescuers are staying on the scene to deal with any possible spills.
The port authority and the operator said there was no sign of an oil or chemical spill. They said the Sri Lankan Navy, Indian Coast Guard, rescue teams and local authorities were able to respond to any sign of oil pollution or debris, and were monitoring the situation around the clock.
The fire destroyed most of the ship’s cargo, which included 25 tons of nitric acid and other chemicals. But there are fears that the remaining chemicals along with hundreds of tons of oil from the fuel tanks could leak into the sea.
Such a disaster could devastate marine life and further pollute the island nation’s famous beaches. The disaster has already caused debris – including several tonnes of plastic pellets used to make plastic bags – to dump on the shore.
The government has banned fishing for about 50 miles of coastline.
Officials say there were around 300 tonnes of oil on board and experts believe it could have burned in the blaze.
Download the NBC News app for the latest news and politics
A ship manifesto viewed by The Associated Press describes the X-Press Pearl as carrying just under 1,500 containers, 81 of those containers being described as “dangerous” goods.
Environmentalists have warned that there is potential for “a terrible environmental catastrophe” as dangerous goods, plastics, chemicals and oil could be released into the water and destroy marine ecological systems.
The fire broke out on May 20 when the ship was anchored about 9.5 nautical miles northwest of Colombo and waiting to enter port. The Navy believes the fire was caused by the ship’s cargo of chemicals, which it was carrying from the port of Hazira in India.
Sri Lankan police are investigating and a Colombo court has banned the captain, engineer and assistant engineer from leaving the country.
The government said it would take legal action against the owners of the ship to seek compensation.