Sri Lanka seeks initial $40M from stricken ship's operator

·2-min read

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lanka is seeking an interim claim of $40 million from the operator of a fire-ravaged cargo ship to cover part of the cost of fighting the blaze, officials said Saturday.

Sri Lanka's attorney general has sent the claim to lawyers representing X-Press Feeders, the ship’s operating company, said Darshani Lahandapura, head of the state-run Marine Pollution Protection Authority.

She said authorities were still assessing the total damages, and the interim claim seeks compensation for expenses from May 20, when the ship caught fire, through June 1.

The fire broke out while the Singapore-flagged MV X-Press Pearl was anchored about 9.5 nautical miles (18 kilometers) northwest of the capital, Colombo, and waiting to enter the country's main port.

The Sri Lankan navy believes the blaze was caused by the vessel’s chemical cargo, which included 25 tons of nitric acid and other chemicals, most of which was destroyed in the fire. But debris including burned fiberglass and tons of plastic pellets have already polluted nearby beaches. There are concerns that a spill of remaining chemicals and oil on the ship could devastate marine life.

However, Sri Lankan authorities and the ship’s operator say there’s still no large oil spill.

The fire burned for 12 days before being extinguished last week. The ship then began sinking, and attempts to tow it into deeper waters failed when the vessel's stern sank to the seabed.

The ship remains partly submerged in waters about 21 meters (70 feet) deep.

On Friday, the government said it was testing water samples to determine whether the ship is leaking oil. The tests were prompted by satellite images from Planet Labs Inc. that showed a substance that could be oil in the water near the ship.

A Colombo court has banned the ship’s captain, chief engineer and assistant engineer from leaving the country.

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