COLOMBO: Over 200 rare marine animals have died due to the fire aboard a Singapore-flagged container ship that was carrying tonnes of hazardous chemicals and sank off Sri Lanka's coast earlier this month, a court here has heard, days after the carcasses of the sea creatures started to wash ashore.
Briefing on the damage to aquatic life in the aftermath of 'X-Press Pearl' container ship sinking, the Attorney General's Office told the Magistrate's Court, here, that at least 176 turtles, 20 dolphins and four whales have perished due to a resultant chemical leak.
In the last few days, the carcasses of scores of sea animals have washed ashore. The Department of Wildlife has reported the beaching of animals to 26 different courts, the Attorney General's Office said.
The court has directed the government's analyst to submit an official findings report. The cargo ship was carrying 1,486 containers of chemicals and cargo when it went up in flames on May 21 near the Colombo Port.
The Sri Lankan Navy, Airforce and the Indian Coast Guard jointly doused the fire in an operation that took days. However, the ship sank off the country's coast on June 17.
Apart from the 325 metric tonnes of fuel in its tanks, the ship was loaded with 25 tonnes of hazardous nitric acid. Environmentalists have dubbed it as one the worst ecological disasters in the country's history.
Last week, Sri Lanka made an interim damage claim of USD 40 million from the owners of the cargo ship, through the Attorney General following a directive by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa Environment Minister Mahinda Amaraweera said only 40 per cent of the hazardous materials, such as plastic pellets, oils and acid, from the ship had washed ashore.
Chief of Marine Environmental Protection Authority Darshani Lahandapura said operations are on to identify the hazardous cargo that fell into the sea.
Indian survey vessel, INS Sarvekshak, has been assisting in the efforts for nearly a week now, she said.
"The Indian ship can only see the containers on the sea bed, if they can identify the container numbers then we would be able to determine which cargo they were carrying. If the numbers had been destroyed by fire or any other reason this would be difficult," Lahandapura said.
The UN representative in Sri Lanka last week said the sinking of the container ship has caused significant damage to the planet by releasing hazardous substances into the ecosystem.
A team of oil spill and chemical experts from the UN and the European Union is working with Sri Lankan agencies to assess the impact of the disaster.