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Ship fire off coast of Sri Lankan capital leaves tons of plastic waste, debris on beach

A special Sri Lankan police team has begun investigating a fire on a container ship anchored off its capital as the government seeks to take legal action against the vessel’s owners over the incident, which has caused severe marine pollution, officials said Monday.

The fire on the MV X-Press Pearl has been burning since May 20, ravaging the Singapore-flagged ship, which officials say is only about five months old.

The navy says the flames are still burning but have been reduced to “small spot fires” in the ship’s aft. Meanwhile, debris — including several tons of plastic pellets used to make plastic bags — from the burning ship has washed ashore and is causing severe pollution on beaches. The government has banned fishing along about 80 kilometres of the coast.

Here’s a look at the damage and the cleanup efforts.

Fire and explosion

Below, smoke rises from the MV X-Press Pearl engulfed in flames off the port of Colombo on May 25. The vessel’s 25-member crew, which includes Philippine, Chinese, Indian and Russian nationals, was evacuated that day following an explosion.

(Sri Lanka Air Force/The Associated Press)

The navy believes the fire was caused by chemicals being transported on the ship. It was carrying 1,486 containers, including 25 tons of nitric acid and other chemicals that were loaded at the port of Hazira, India, on May 15. The fire has destroyed most of the ship’s cargo.

Firefighting tugboats have been spraying the vessel, with support from vessels from the Sri Lankan navy and Indian coast guard.

(Sri Lanka Airforce Media/Handout/Reuters)

Beaches covered in debris  

Sri Lankan navy soldiers, clad in protective suits, have been brought in to remove the debris from the ship that has washed ashore on beaches. 

(Ishara S. Kodikara/AFP/Getty Images)

(Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters)

Authorities have warned residents not to touch the debris because it could be contaminated with harmful chemicals.

Below, a navy officer patrols near a damaged cargo container spilled from the ship. 

(Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters)

Villagers push some cargo that has spilled from the X-Press Pearl, as smoke rises from the fire on the ship behind them.

(Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters)

An earthmover removes debris from a beach.

(Ishara S. Kodikara/AFP/Getty Images)

Soldiers attempt to evade a wave drifting debris ashore from the ship.

(Eranga Jayawardena/The Associated Press)

Concern for marine life

The government’s Marine Environment Protection Authority says chemicals have mixed with the seawater and could cause severe damage to marine species and coral reefs.

Here, an officer from National Aquatic Resources Research and Development Agency collects samples of material washed ashore.

(Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters)

Local television channels are showing dead fish, turtles and other marine life that has washed ashore in recent days.

Below, a crab roams on a beach polluted with polythene pellets from the ship.

(Eranga Jayawardena/The Associated Press)

Soldiers walk past sacks filled with debris washed ashore from the ship.

(Lakruwan Wanniarachchi/AFP/Getty Images)

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