07 JUNE 2021 

The Sri Lankan Navy has recovered the voyage data recorder (VDR) from the wreck of the container ship X-Press Pearl, which partially sank last week after a devastating cargo fire off the coast of Colombo.

The X-Press Pearl was anchored before and during the fire, and her crew was evacuated from the ship May 25. As few if any bridge conversations or navigation have occurred since, the VDR may not have recorded substantial new information about recent events aboard the ship, but it provides an additional resource for Sri Lankan officials as they begin an investigation into the fire.

Sri Lankan Navy divers attempted to access the vessel last week, but low visibility and rough surface conditions hampered the effort. They returned Sunday and conducted a more thorough examination of the hull, and they reported no signs of oil pollution.

The vessel had about 300 tonnes of fuel aboard when she arrived in the anchorage off Colombo; some reports have suggested it is possible that a portion of the fuel may have burned off in the fire.

As is common after a large-scale container spill, plastic pellets (nurdles) from a cargo of raw plastic are washing up on nearby beaches in drifts. Operator X-Press Feeders has agreed to contribute to the cost of cleanup to remove the waste. To date, no oil pollution has been reported on the surface or on shore. 

The company’s CEO, Shmuel Yoskovitz, has apologized for the disaster. “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,” Yoskovitz told Singaporean outlet CNA.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation, but suspicion centers on a leaking cargo of nitric acid. The crew had attempted to offload the damaged cargo for re-packing (rework) at two prior ports but was denied permission, according to X-Press Feeders and the Sri Lankan Ports Authority. At the time of the fire, X-Press Pearl was waiting out a period of rough weather at anchor, with plans to berth in Colombo to deal with the leaking acid. 


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