While Sri Lanka braces itself for a possible oil spill from a sunken Singapore-registered container ship, the vessel operator's chief executive on Thursday (Jun 3) expressed “deep regrets and apologies” for the impact that the incident has caused on livelihoods and the environment.
The container ship X-Press Pearl was carrying 1,486 containers, including 25 tonnes of nitric acid, when it caught fire on May 20 off the west coast of Sri Lanka. It burned for 13 days before the blaze was finally put out on Tuesday.
In an interview with CNA on Thursday, vessel operator X-Press Feeders’ CEO Shmuel Yoskovitz said his company has enlisted environmental experts, such as the International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation, to monitor the situation.
It has also started engaging and working with the Sri Lankan authorities, and contributed “some heavy equipment” to help with the clean-up of beaches.
“I’d like to express my deep regrets and apologies to the Sri Lankan people for the harm this incident has caused to the livelihood and to the environment of Sri Lanka,” Mr Yoskovitz said.
Mr Yoskovitz told CNA that the aft portion of the container ship has sunk and is “now laying on the seabed at (a depth of) about 21m”. The ship’s forward section is also “slowly sinking”.
“To assess the real situation, we will need to wait for the wreck to settle on the seabed and then see what really can be done,” he said.
“Currently what the salvors are doing, they are monitoring the wreck and making sure that any debris or god forbid, the oil spill will be detected quickly and handled accordingly.”
He added that as of 5pm on Thursday, “there has been no oil pollution detected”.
Sri Lanka is facing its worst marine ecological disaster. Millions of plastic pellets from the ship’s containers have fouled the country’s beaches and fishing waters, forcing a fishing ban and a major clean-up involving thousands of soldiers.
The Sri Lankan government has said it would seek compensation for the incident.
Asked how much that could amount to, Mr Yoskovitz said: “This is now being assessed but we need to bear in mind that this will be a long process ... first of all, to see when this incident will be over and then to assess the total damages.”
It is “very hard” to estimate any cost or damages at the moment, he added.
“But we are insured. The direct financial burden on X-Press (Feeders) will be very limited,” he said.
Sri Lankan officials have said they suspect the fire was caused by a nitric acid leak, which the ship’s crew had been aware of since at least three weeks ago.
Mr Yoskovitz confirmed that the crew had been aware of the leak, but said they were denied permission by both Qatar and India authorities to unload the leaking container before the fire broke out.
Providing a timeline of events, he said the container was first loaded on the ship on May 10 at the Jebel Ali port in Dubai.
“It was discovered leaking while alongside Hamad, which is a port in Qatar. When it was detected, we asked to discharge it. The port authorities did not allow it since they had no manpower or the equipment readily available to discharge," he said.
“Afterwards, the vessel sailed into Hazira, a port in India, where we requested the Hazira port to allow us to discharge the container. Again it was rejected, more or less for the same reasons as it was in Hamad,” he said.
The X-Press Pearl then arrived in Sri Lankan waters on May 19. Smoke was detected the next morning.
“Until that time, there was only leakage from one container, which was handled and controlled by the crew,” Mr Yoskovitz told CNA.
Asked if the incident could have been avoided if the leaking container was allowed to be discharged at the ports in Qatar and India, he replied that “it is very hard to assess what caused the fire”.
While the leak from one container was “the most probable cause”, he stressed that the company is “not 100 per cent sure”.
“There are many incidents like that at sea. Sometimes, terminals and ports are able to help, and sometimes not," the chief executive added.
He said that the ship’s crew attended to the leak in accordance with guidelines from the International Maritime Dangerous Goods Convention.
Mr Yoskovitz was then asked how inadequate packaging of chemical contents could cause such fires, and if this is an urgent problem that needs to be addressed.
He said that shipping companies have been trying to raise awareness about this issue for the past few years and there have been "countless incidents of fires".
"Not to talk about leaks which happened probably on a weekly (basis) which we don't hear, thank god, because a catastrophe has not happened," said the chief executive officer.
“You need to remember that we load containers that are signed and sealed and we don't open them. We are dependent on the declaration and the professionality of our shippers that they will pack the containers correctly and that they will declare them correctly," he added.
Where was the ship heading to with the corrosive material?
aka Friday, 04 June 2021 08:00 AM
They had 500 containers to be unloaded at Colombo.
These were ordered by a very popular business which also owns a media empire.
larry Friday, 04 June 2021 12:09 AM
Ranaweera Friday, 04 June 2021 01:19 AM
Apologies will not be sufficient, you need to pay, this is a criminal negligence.
Sunil Vijayapala Friday, 04 June 2021 07:42 AM
thank god, because a catastrophe has not happened," s
Mithun Friday, 04 June 2021 08:33 AM
Our Port Minister told yesterday that the Port Hamad and Hazira were not rejected the captain's request and the ship route is Jebal Ali, Hamad,Hazira to Srilanka.
Hamid Friday, 04 June 2021 02:06 PM
The guy you mentioned is petty thief, who used to snatch gold necklaces from female train travellers
Pramod Friday, 04 June 2021 08:33 AM
These guys have ruined our country. Let's exchange countries. You come here we go there. How's that?
Mapa bandara Friday, 04 June 2021 08:34 AM
The catastrophic incident could have been averted if the shippers have put down the leaking container into the deep sea after getting necessary approval. This is clear negligence of shipper to be punished. They have sailed more than thousand nautical miles bearing the fire risk.
Be Fair Friday, 04 June 2021 08:46 AM
Lets assume compensation is LKR 900m, its US$ 4.5m and this amount for a shipping company is not even petty cash.
Joshua Friday, 04 June 2021 08:53 AM
The Government does not want apologies. It wants Dollars machan Dollars.
Jude Friday, 04 June 2021 10:52 AM
Half a billion dollars compensation cheque will prove how sincere you are Mr.CEO , your words mean nothing, remember actions speak louder than words !!
Boris Vanculenberg Friday, 04 June 2021 11:13 AM
Oh really, nice to hear. BTW, how many percent to the 'ghost hand' that gave the green light to enter SL waters? Look after him first for future needs!
Mohanan Friday, 04 June 2021 12:24 PM
Depending on the sender for proper packaging is not right. You should have a way to inspect at least the packaging of dangerous goods.
Ben Friday, 04 June 2021 12:30 PM
Could the CEO explain,how twice rejected ship maneged to get permission to enter Colombo harbour, undoubtedly Colombo doesn't have better equipments comparatively other two
tom Friday, 04 June 2021 12:32 PM
You just said chemicals,but what are they, good to expose it,so people can take preventive steps
SL Friday, 04 June 2021 01:55 PM
In my opinion, now the damage has happened. Crew is totally responsible for bringing this disaster in to my country .
So properly compensate those who are affected i.e country,sea bed,fish,Coral reafs, fisherman and the beach and move .There should be proper guideline to punish the company who did the packaging so as these type of incidents are never happened again.
Sambo Friday, 04 June 2021 07:53 PM
Coming colors no good.
TYR Friday, 04 June 2021 11:48 PM
Shipwreck is the US
Comments will be edited (grammar, spelling and slang) and authorized at the discretion of Daily Mirror online. The website also has the right not to publish selected comments.