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April 20, 2024

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Sri Lanka    Sri Lanka   

Sri Lanka, formerly known as Ceylon, and officially the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, is an island country in South Asia. It lies in the Indian Ocean, southwest of the Bay of Bengal, and southeast of the Arabian Sea; it is separated from the Indian subcontinent by the Gulf of Mannar and the Palk Strait. Wikipedia

Capitals: Colombo, Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte

President: Gotabaya Rajapaksa

Currency: Sri Lankan rupee

Population: 21.92 million (2020) World Bank

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On 20 May 2021, cargo ship “X-PRESS PEARL with 1486 containers on board carrying dangerous cargo; 25 tonnes of nitric acid, caustic soda, solid sodium methoxide solution, cosmetics, methanol and vinyl acetate including micro plastics, plastic pellets together with other cargo caught fire about nine nautical miles (16 Km) off the coast of Colombo commercial shipping harbor.

"There were some 46 different chemicals on that ship," Hemantha Withanage, a Sri Lankan environmental activist and founder of the Centre for Environmental Justice in the capital Colombo, told the BBC.

"But what's been most visible so far are the tonnes of plastic pellets."

Since late May, such pellets from the X-Press Pearl cargo have ended up on the Negombo beaches while fish have already been washed up with bloated bellies and pellets stuck in their gills.

The fire continued to burn till end of May and several small explosions were heard from the container ship during the fire. Sri Lanka Navy, Airforce, Coast Guard supported by the Indian Navy worked around the clock to contain the fire for nearly two weeks. The firefighting was made difficult and complicated by the southwest monsoon rains/ high winds and highly flammable poisonous cargo. The 25 crew (Indian, Philippines, Chinese and Russian nationals) were evacuated and are currently being treated at hospitals in Colombo. One crew member was tested positive for COVID19. According to Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA), this is Sri Lanka’s worst environmental disaster in its history with unimaginable consequences to the marine enviroment.

"There were some 46 different chemicals on that ship," Hemantha Withanage, a Sri Lankan environmental activist and founder of the Centre for Environmental Justice in the capital Colombo, told the BBC.

"But what's been most visible so far are the tonnes of plastic pellets."

Since late May, such pellets from the X-Press Pearl cargo have ended up on the Negombo beaches while fish have already been washed up with bloated bellies and pellets stuck in their gills.

The plastic can take between 500 to 1000 years to decompose and is likely to be carried by ocean currents to shores all around Sri Lanka and even to beaches hundreds of kilometres away from the shipwreck.

Yet while the plastic might be the most visible impact so far, it's not the most dangerous one.

"If these nurdles are within fish we eat, they're usually in the fish's digestive tract," Britta Denise Hardesty of Australia's CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere told the BBC. "But we don't eat the entire fish unless it's maybe anchovies or sardines.

"Pellets are often sensationalised but there is no strong evidence that humans are shown to have detrimental impact from eating fish that may haven eaten plastics."

'Our entire family will starve'

But for the fishermen of Negombo, their concern is not only what's inside the fish - but the possibility of not being able to catch any fish at all.

Fishing has now been banned in the affected area - meaning that many of them have lost their income and livelihood practically overnight.

"The fish are bred in the coral reefs in the area and authorities are saying that all those breeding grounds are destroyed due to the dangerous chemicals. There is no other option than jump into the sea and die," says Tiuline Fernando, who's been a fisherman for the past 35 years.

 

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