Environmentalists Sue Sri Lanka After Sinkage of Ship Loaded With Acid

The environmental organization Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ) sued the Sri Lankan government and container shipping group X-Press Feeders over the MV X-Press Pearl incident, which resulted in tons of chemicals spilling into the Indian Ocean after the ship caught fire.

CEJ filed a fundamental right petition in Sri Lanka's Supreme Court on Friday. The group described the legal challenge, which seeks unspecified damages, on social media as a way to "protect the rights of all sectors of our motherland, including the environment." CEJ also called the chemical spill from the accident "the worst marine disaster" in the country's history.

SS Pearl
Smoke billows from the Singapore-registered container ship MV X-Press Pearl as it's towed away from the coast of Colombo on June 2, 2021. Getty

The MV X-Press Pearl caught fire on May 20 with authorities giving the preliminary theory that the fire was caused by a nitric acid leak. Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported afterward that Sri Lankan authorities launched a criminal investigation to the cause of the fire, which burned for 13 days before being extinguished.

The Sri Lankan government has also called the incident the country's worst marine disaster, as the sinking ship was carrying 1,486 containers filled with chemicals, including 25 metric tons of nitric acid.

The CEJ criticized the government for what it termed as inaction "against the concepts and principles of environmental law." A hearing date has yet to be assigned.

CEJ claimed the crew knew of an acid leak on May 11, days before the ship came into Sri Lankan waters. CEJ also said local authorities should not have permitted the vessel to come near the country.

The Singapore-registered MV X-Press Pearl continues to slowly sink off the coast of Sri Lanka's capital city Colombo. It began sinking on Wednesday after a tug ship unsuccessfully attempted to pull the ship to deeper waters.

Authorities are currently preparing for a potentially larger problem. By attempting to move the sinking ship further out into the sea, 278 metric tons of bunker oil and 50 metric tons of gasoline aboard the X-Press Pearl could leak into the Indian Ocean.

Already, microplastic pollution from the ship could cause years of ecological damage, the Sri Lanka's Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA) said in a statement. Waves of plastic waste are already washing up on shore, where navy sailors were deployed to clean the beaches. A stretch of roughly 50 miles of beach has been declared off limits for residents, and fishing has also been banned in the area.

AFP reported that choppy seas and poor visibility on Friday prevented divers from checking the X-Press Pearl's hull for a second day. The news agency also noted MEPA has readied oil dispersants and skimmers should the vessel leak fuel oil, and an Indian Coast Guard vessel was ready nearby with equipment to deal with an oil slick.

Sri Lanka's Harbour Master Nirmal Silva reported on Friday that he believes no oil has leaked 48 hours after the stern submerged.

Newsweek reached out to the Centre for Environmental Justice for comment but did not hear back before publication.