Plastic Waste Swamps Sri Lanka’s West Coast


  • Plastic waste and other debris from the vessel that has been burning since May 20.
  • Plastic pellets swamped Sri Lanka’s west coast, prompting a ban on fishing.
  • Compensation assured for affected boat owners.

Tonnes of plastic pellets from a burning container ship swamped Sri Lanka’s west coast Friday, prompting a ban on fishing as international efforts to salvage the vessel dragged into a ninth day, reports 

Assurance from government

The government announced the ban along an 80-kilometre coastal area, including Colombo, fearing contamination with pollutants and plastic waste.

“We will compensate the owners of 5,600 boats affected by the ban,” fisheries minister Kanchana Wijesekera said while adding that seafood currently in the market was safe for consumption.

Millions of plastic granules washed up at the holiday resort of Kalutara, resembling pollution at Negombo, a tourist and fishing area 40 kilometres north of the capital.

Navy sailors deployed in hazmat suits

Sri Lankan authorities meanwhile deployed hundreds of security personnel in hazmat suits to clean the beaches of plastic waste and other debris from the vessel burning since May 20.

Sri Lanka navy chief Vice Admiral Nishantha Ulugetenne said the fire was largely under control and the risk of the vessel breaking up had diminished.

“Right now there is no threat of the ship breaking up, but we don’t know how much oil is still left,” Ulugetenne told reporters in Colombo.

Sri Lanka’s Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA) warned of a possible oil leak, along with the ship’s plastic cargo causing extensive damage.

Impact on Marine life

The impact on mangroves and lagoons was still being estimated while a beach clean up was already underway. Harm to marine wildlife and birds is also being assessed.

MEPA chairperson addressed Microplastics threat and warned of long term repercussions. 

“Sri Lanka is one of the best bio-diverse countries in Asia and this type of plastic pollution, especially from microplastics can have long term repercussions,” MEPA chairperson Dharshani Lahandapura said.

“Microplastics are already an issue in the world’s oceans and this disaster here is making it worse for us.”

Cargo destroyed

She said much of the cargo, including 25 tonnes of nitric acid, sodium hydroxide (caustic soda), lubricants and other chemicals appeared to have been destroyed in the huge fire.

The fire broke out on May 20 as the ship waited to enter the Colombo port.

Bulldozers scooped up tonnes of the polythene pellets that came from at least eight containers that fell off the ship on Tuesday.

Officials said the vessel was known to carry 28 containers of pellets that are used as a raw material in the packaging industry.

The vessel, which is anchored just outside the Colombo harbour, was still smouldering and an international salvage effort to put out the fire was underway.

Nitric acid leak the likely cause?

The fire broke out on May 20 as the ship waited to enter the Colombo port. Authorities believe the fire was caused by a nitric acid leak which the crew had been aware.

For more information read our article Fire Breaks Out Onboard Brand New Boxship

The 25-member crew evacuated on Tuesday and two of them suffered minor injuries in the process, the owners of the vessel said on Thursday.

Oil residue and charred containers have already washed ashore at Negombo.

International efforts to salvage operations

Four Indian vessels have joined Sri Lanka’s navy in the battle to contain the fire. Two of the vessels were also equipped to deal with an oil slick, officials said.

Salvage operations are led by the Dutch company SMIT which has sent specialist fire fighting tugs.

SMIT, renowned salvage troubleshooters, was also involved in dousing the flames on an oil tanker that caught fire off Sri Lanka’s east coast last September after an engine room explosion that killed a crew member.

The fire on the tanker took more than a week to put out and left a 40-kilometre (25-mile) long oil spill. Sri Lanka has demanded the owners pay a $17 million clean-up bill.

Did you subscribe to our daily newsletter?

It’s Free! Click here to Subscribe!



This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.