307 animals dead since ship fire
- Govt. analyst to handover autopsy findings report to AG
BY Pamodi Waravita
As of 23 July, a total of 307 marine animals have been found dead following the maritime disaster involving the MV X-Press Pearl ship towards the latter part of May.
The Wildlife and Forest Conservation Ministry told The Morning yesterday (26) that 258 turtles, 43 dolphins, and six whales have so far been reported dead after the MV X-Press Pearl incident.
Local authorities are yet to confirm the findings of the necroscopies of the animals as the Government Analyst’s Department is expected to hand over its report on the matter directly to the Attorney General’s (AG) Department.
On 17 June, the expert panel, convened by the Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA), which evaluated the damages of the MV X-Press Pearl, said that the incident has led to the deaths of marine animals due to burns, harm caused by exposure to chemicals, and asphyxiation owing to experiencing difficulties in breathing.
“Investigations into different marine animals take different time periods and methods. The evidence so far shows that there have been fish who have died due to experiencing difficulties in breathing, while the carcasses of certain species of fish like the moray eel which never wash up ashore, have washed up ashore, and some fish had plastic pellets or nurdles in their stomach,” Ruhuna University Fisheries and Marine Sciences and Technology Faculty Fisheries and Aquaculture Department Senior Prof. Ruchira Cumaranatunga said at the time. Observations of the turtle deaths have shown that initially they had died due to burns while the current deaths show the turtles with their mouths open, which indicates difficulties in breathing caused most likely due to chemical harm, added Prof. Cumaranatunga.
Environment Ministry Secretary Dr. Anil Jasinghe said at the time that there also could be other causes of death of marine animals, pertaining to which investigations are still being carried out.
The MV X-Press Pearl ship caught fire on 20 May approximately nine nautical miles away from the Colombo Harbour, after having anchored there a few hours prior to the fire. A subsequent explosion on 24 May led to the fire spreading and a number of containers aboard it falling into the sea, thus releasing pollutants including plastic pellets into the water. Reportedly, the ship had carried in its cargo about 25 tonnes of nitric acid, 300 metric tonnes (MTs) of bunker oil, and 78 MT of plastic pellets or nurdles. Environmentalists have speculated that the plastic pellets could plague the country’s marine environment, including its beaches, for years to come.