X-Press Pearl operators, Captain, local agent under probe
By Sulochana Ramiah Mohan
Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) said inquiries have begun over the failure of the X-Press Pearl operators based in Singapore, the ship Captain and the local agent, to inform SLPA there was a nitric acid leak in the cargo, prior to getting permission for anchorage at the Port of Colombo on 19 May. Containers of nitric acid were loaded on to Singaporeflagged X-Press Pearl at the Jebel Ali in Dubai, United Arab Emirates and the port of discharging those containers was Port Klang of Malaysia.
The confidential document obtained by Ceylon Today notes that after loading nitric acid cargo out of Jebel Ali of Dubai, UAE and while X-Press Pearl was en route to Hamad Port in Qatar (which is 24 hours steaming), a slight smoke from the ship was seen. The vessel had started its journey at Tanjung Pelapas, Malaysia to reach Jebel Ali in Dubai where the nitric acid cargo was loaded.
From there it sailed to – Hamad Port in Qatar and was called to Hazira port in India. From India carrying its cargo, it was to reach Colombo Port. From Colombo, it was to sail to two ports in Malaysia, namely Port Klang and Port Tanjung Pelapas before ending its journey in Singapore. At the Colombo Port, it is said that after two hours of anchorage, an email was received from the local agent of X-press Feeder, Setmil Group Sri Lanka that there is a leak in the cargo and little while later there was smoke emanating from the ship.
Setmil Group Sri Lanka Managing Director Arjuna Hettiarachchi, was on Friday (28) seen engaged with his team in beach cleaning following the debris of the ship washed ashore. SLPA Chairman Gen. Daya Ratnayake told Ceylon Today the SLPA was not informed about what had happened in India and Qatar about the nitric acid leak and the Feeder operators did not abide by the international protocol, the international Memorandum of Understanding.
The SLPA, Merchant Shipping Secretariat, the MEPA have begun inquiries to hold accountable for the disaster and toxic pollution to the coastal areas, to the ocean and the marine life besides the feeder company will have to settle a colossal amount of money as compensation for the pollution and separately settle payment to those who are assisting in dousing of the fire. “We will be doing a final report on all areas of concerns and file a legal case against the operators and we will continue to probe the ship captain and the local agent.
We have already started,” the SLPA Chairman added. Having heard the news, the Hamad Port in Qatar had refused to discharge this cargo as they only take containers that can have direct delivery. After sailing from Hamad Port, the ship was to call at Jebel Ali again to discharge this container, however, X-Press Feeders had decided “not” to have the second call in Jebel Ali and let it sail to Port of Hazira in India. There again, Hazira port also refused the discharge. Then the ship came to Colombo anchorage and then there was smoke, which later intensified and caught fire.
The reliable source said if the ship had only discharged the containers in question at Jebel Ali during the second call, which the Feeder operators did not want to, all this could have been avoided. However, the operators of X-Press Feeder in their latest report said the Hamad Port in Qatar and Hazira Port in India had not given permission to offload a container that was leaking nitric acid and the two ports had advised that they had no specialist facilities or expertise immediately available to deal with the leaking acid.
On detecting the leak, the ship’s captain promptly had contacted two ports – Hazira on the west coast of India and Hamad in Qatar – requesting to offload the containers in question. Although the report that X-Press Pearl was denied entry into Hazira Port in India and Hamad Port in Qatar are incorrect, the fact remains the two ports were informed about the leaking of nitric acid was true.
According to the Xpress Feeder ‘Applications had been made to both ports to offload a container that was leaking nitric acid, but the advice given was there were no specialist facilities or expertise immediately available to deal with the leaking acid’. Fire fighting efforts of the Sri Lanka Ports Authority and other local agencies in coordination with Indian Coast Guard Ships to extinguish the fire on the X-Press Pearl continues for the 10th day. The fire has been contained considerably