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Sri Lanka: Data recorder recovered from sinking ship

June 6, 2021

The black box containing information about the operation of MV X-Press Pearl, has been recovered. Sri Lankan authorities are on alert, as a possible oil spill and environmental implications are expected.

Handout photo of the MV X-Press Pearl off Sri Lanka. (Photo by - / SRI LANKA AIR FORCE / AFP)
The black box has information about the operation of the ship.Image: Sri Lanka Air Force/AFP

The voyage data recorder has been recovered from a fire-ravaged ship that is sinking off the coast of Sri Lanka, as experts try to determine what caused the fire.

The recorder from the MV X-Press Pearl, also known as the black box, contains important information about the operation of the vessel. It will be handed over to local law enforcement agencies that are investigating the fire. 

The ship's aft portion remains on the seabed at a depth of about 21 meters (almost 70 feet), and the forward section continues to settle down slowly.

The Singapore-registered vessel has been slowly sinking into the Indian Ocean since Wednesday, after a fire that lasted nearly two week. It was heading from Colombo to India's Gujarat state, carrying 25 tonnes of nitric acid, and plastic raw materials. 

Efforts to tow the ship away from the port of Colombo failed as the ship's stern was submerged in water, and rested on the seabed.

Potential environmental disaster

The Sri Lankan navy, Indian coast guard, and salvage crews have been waiting on standby, as vast environmental implications including an oil spill are expected. An 80-kilometer (50-mile) stretch of the beach has been declared off limits for locals, and fishing has been banned in the area. Tons of microplastic granules from the ship swamped the beach area. 

Debris being removed from the beach near Colombo. (Photo by Saman Abesiriwardana/Pacific Press)
An oil spill is expected.Image: Saman Abesiriwardana/Pacific Press/picture alliance

Debris has washed ashore, as army personnel have been engaged in removing it from the beach. An oil spill could affect marine life, and pollute Sri Lanka's beaches even more.

Officials said an acid leak from May 11 may be the cause of the disaster. They also said that ports in Qatar and India had refused to offload the nitric acid.

A criminal investigation has been launched by local authorities. 

The government has said it will take action against the ship's owner. A group of environmentalists have sued the Sri Lankan government and the ship operator, for what they described as the "worst marine disaster" in the country's history.

tg/rc (AFP, AP)