Amidst The Vortex of Flames : X-Press Pearl Debacle

Part I The Beginning of the End

Sri Lanka has had a spate of vessel-induced pollution in her waters. Recently, MT New Diamond registered in Panama caught fire on 03rd of September, 2020. Sri Lanka is yet to receive compensation from it. So, X-Press Pearl joins the saga in May, 2021 amidst that.
The vessel X-PRESS PEARL (IMO: 9875343, MMSI 563118200) is a Container Ship built in 2021 and was sailing under the flag of Singapore. It was carrying 1,486 containers containing 25 tonnes of nitric acid, other chemicals and cosmetics on board. It had been en-route to Singapore from the port of Hazira in India, via Colombo.
Image Credits: Hiru News  
Image Credits: Daily News
The vessel had reached Colombo Harbour by midnight on 19th of May, 2021 but after 10 hours, their requirement to offload a container had been informed to Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) via e-mail, according to news reports.
“Sri Lanka was not informed of any emergency situation on board, he (Dr. Nalaka Godahewa) noted while stating that the vessel informed SLPA of smoke on board around 12 hours after it anchored at the Colombo Harbour.
It was two hours later that the vessel had requested immediate assistance from Sri Lanka to contain the fire from the Sri Lanka Ports Authority, said the State Minister.
The ship was engulfed in fire on 20th May, 2021 and firefighters, Sri Lanka Navy and Air Force responded to the distress call of the ship and started to douse the fire. On the 25th, an explosion was reported and debris started to wash ashore. As of 02nd of June 2021, the ship was ordered to be towed away into the high seas, but now, it is sinking.
What could the aftermath be?
  • Short Term Impacts
    • Environmental damage due to marine and coastal pollution. This includes the life threat faced by marine flora and fauna, the mangroves and the corals, if any due to acid, chemicals and plastic pellets.
    • Impact on livelihoods of fisher folk, coastal communities and other related industries.
    • Threat of Acid Rains.[2]
    • Air pollution.
Long Term Impacts
    • Restoration of the environment to her previous state is an arduous task.
    • Damage to Fish Breeding Areas and may result in lesser yields. (The affected seafront is known for its crabs and jumbo prawns as well as its tourist beaches.)[3]
    • Once the country is reopened for tourism, due to loss of scenic beauty in the area, tourism will be impacted.
    • Climate Change.
So who is liable?
In order to determine the suitable cause of action and options available=, we ought to explore the rights and  liabilities  of the following parties under the relevant international conventions and domestic laws:
  • The shipowner and operator (X-Press Feeders and Master of the Ship)
  • Flag state
  • The Charterer (Shipper) and The Packaging company
  • Port state

Part II of our series of blog posts on X-Press Pearl will delve into the liabilities of these parties in detail.

Zulfick Farzan, ‘SL yet to receive payment for MT New Diamond Oil Spill’ (Newsfirst, 06 April 2021) <> accessed 31 May 2021.

X-PRESS PEARL (Vesselfinder, as updated) <> accessed 31 May 2021.

‘Singapore-flagged container ship ablaze off Sri Lanka threatens chemical, oil spill’ (The Straits Times, 26 May 2021) <> accessed 31 May 2021.

Zulfick Farzan, ‘X-PRESS PEARL did NOT inform Sri Lanka of acid leak before dropping anchor’ (Newsfirst, 28 May 2021) <> accessed 31 May 2021.

Pavani Hapuarachchi, ‘MEPA warns of possible ACID RAIN due to burning X-Press Pearl ship’ (Newsfirst, 27 May 2021)  < > accessed 31 May 2021.

‘Sri Lanka facing marine disaster from burning ship: Environment official’ (Channel News Asia, 29 May 2021) <> accessed 31 May 2021.

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