Sri Lankan criminal investigators began questioning the crew of a burning cargo ship on Monday, as the Singapore-registered carrier smoldered for a twelfth day in a row in one of the island’s worst marine environmental disasters.
A fire broke out aboard the MV X-Press Pearl, which was carrying 25 tons of nitric acid and a huge amount of plastic raw materials, as it was about to enter Colombo port on the 20th. may.
There were no visible flames aboard the ship as of mid-Monday, but smoke was rising from the aft section, its operator and officials said.
Firefighters were still working at the site, they said, adding that the distressed vessel was still too hot to be boarded.
Detectives questioned the ship’s captain and chief engineer – both Russian – and its chief officer, an Indian, at a hotel where they were quarantined, police said.
“We have so far interviewed three crew members and investigations are ongoing,” added a police spokesperson.
“Some sailors have now assisted local police in their investigations into the fire and are cooperating with investigators,” the vessel’s operators, X-Press Feeders, added in a statement.
“We will respect this process and will not publicly discuss operational details until the investigation is completed.”
The intense flames destroyed much of the cargo, part of which fell into the Indian Ocean.
Tons of microplastic pellets from its cargo of nearly 1,500 containers have flooded Sri Lanka’s famous beaches, forcing a fishing ban and sparking fears of ecological devastation.
The head of the Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA), Dharshani Lahandapura, said he was still assessing the ecological damage, but believed it was “the worst of my life”.
MEPA said the ship’s captain was aware of a nitric acid leak on May 11, long before the ship entered Sri Lankan waters.
Authorities are suing the ship’s owners and crew and claiming damages from insurers.
The three-month-old ship was heading to Colombo from Gujarat, India.
He had previously visited Qatar and Dubai and was due to visit Malaysia and Singapore after stopping over in Colombo.