The Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA) had lodged a complaint with the Colombo Harbour Police in respect of the environmental pollution caused to the sea as a result of the fire on-board the X-Press Pearl.
Police Spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana said the Harbour Police had subsequently initiated investigations and the facts had been reported to the Colombo Magistrate’s Court. On the orders of the Colombo Magistrate’s Court, samples have been sent to the Government Analyst for analysis and further investigations are being carried out by the Colombo Harbour Police.
He said that as the crew members, including the captain of the ship are under quarantine procedures, police have not been able to obtain statements from them. However, he said that the Harbour Police would be contacting the local agent for the X-Press Pearl and further action would be initiated accordingly.
Meanwhile, a six member team from the Netherlands had inspected the ship from a tug boat yesterday, May 27. Despite the warnings issued by MEPA and the authorities advising the public not to touch any of the debris reaching the shores from the ill-fated ship, as these could be toxic materials, many people were seen collecting debris such as metal scraps, plastics and snacks which had drifted from the vessel and were found along the shores of Negombo, Ja-Ela, Kepumgoda, Seththappaduwa and Dungalpitiya areas.
Police Spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana said that a special operation had been conducted by SSP Negombo and his team on Wednesday in order to conduct investigations into the incidents which took place on the beaches of Pamunugama, Dungalpitiya, Kochchikade and Negombo Police areas.
Video footage had shown persons collecting items which had washed ashore from the ill-stricken ship. These persons had violated quarantine rules and regulations implemented by the police. Based on the evidence collected by the police, these persons have committed an offence under the Penal Code, the Police Spokesman said. Therefore, an operation had been initiated and eight persons had been arrested. Two persons had been arrested by the Dungalpitiya Police for transporting these items in a lorry.
In addition, three persons had been arrested by the Pamunugama and Kochchikade Police for collecting items from the fire stricken X-Press Pearl despite warnings not to do so. These suspects are scheduled to be produced before the Negombo Magistrate’s Court.
Police Spokesman said that further investigations are continuing to apprehend other suspects who had violated quarantine laws and engaged in collecting items that washed ashore from the burning ship.
Air Force Bell 212 helicopters were used on two occasions on Wednesday to drop 850 Kg of dry chemical powder on the burning ship to douse the fire, the SLAF Spokesman stated.
Sri Lanka Navy on Tuesday (May 25) managed to rescue all crew members from the burning vessel. Two injured Indian nationals among them were admitted to the National Hospital in Colombo for treatment.
The ship was in anchorage about 9.5 Nautical Miles northwest of Colombo Port at the time of the incident. The vessel had reached the location on May 19 before its entry into the harbour.
The vessel, registered under the flag of Singapore, had departed with 1,486 containers containing 25 tonnes of Nitric Acid, several other chemicals and cosmetics from the port of Hazira in India on May 15.
The Director General of the Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA) Dr. Terney Pradeep said that the danger at present is that preventing the people from collecting items washed ashore from the ship is difficult and consuming items that are washed ashore from this ship maybe harmful as these items could contain harmful chemicals or carcinogenic substances. Therefore, he appealed to the people to refrain from collecting or consuming such items.
MEPA Deputy General Manager, A. J. M. Gunasekara said that a coastal stretch of around 42 Km has been littered with plastic beads and burnt materials from the burning ship, adding that Tri-Forces personnel have been deployed for clean-up in 12 identified spots.
He also said that while there is a risk of an oil spill in the event the ship sinks or breaks apart, contingency plans have been put in place to deal with the situation. Further, legal action has been initiated against the owners of the ship under criminal liability charges.
However, when asked if there is a risk of the ship sinking or breaking apart, he said that as of yesterday evening, the ship was still stable and showed no signs of sinking. But, he said that given the rough seas due to the cyclonic conditions, it cannot be ruled out.