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Joint operation by India and Sri Lanka to contain oil or chemical spill off Colombo making ‘progress’

The High Commission of India in Colombo said today that the latest visuals of Operation Sagar Araksha 2 this morning have 'progress' written all over them (Images courtesy: Indian Coast Guard, the High Commission of India in Colombo and Sri Lanka Air Force)

Joint efforts by India and Sri Lanka to contain the fire on a Singapore flagged container ship off Colombo are paying off.

The two countries have launched 'Operation Sagar Araksha 2' to douse the flames and contain oil or chemical spill from the stricken ship in Sri Lankan waters. A day earlier India had deployed Samudra Prahari – a specialized pollution response vessel of the Indian Coast Guard (ICG).

India had promptly responded to an emergency request by the Sri Lankan Navy on May 25 following an onboard explosion on the Singapore-flagged MV X-Press Pearl. ICG ships Vajra, Vaibhav, Tug Water Lilly, in addition to Dornier aircraft for aerial reconnaissance, are already part of the joint operation as India deployed multiple assets to douse the fire as part of a Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Releif Mission (HADR) in India's neighbourhood.

The High Commission of India in Colombo said today that the latest visuals of Operation Sagar Araksha 2 this morning have 'progress' written all over them.

"India-Lanka operation is in full swing and the hull appears to be intact. Smoke is observed only in the middle part of MV X-Press Pearl. No oil or chemical spill observed till now," the High Commission tweeted.

Colombo Ship Fire

Indian Coast Guard Sri Lanka

The joint India-Sri Lanka operation involves continuous liaison by the Indian High Commission in Colombo and the ICG Headquarters with relevant stakeholders in Sri Lanka for providing recommendations on fire fighting and pollution control.

The burden of these efforts has been to focus on preventing the spread of fire towards the vessel’s bow and thereby protecting anchor, cable-chain and other associated machinery highly inclement weather. At present, heavy smoke is observed only near the accommodation/superstructure area in aft portion of the ship and is being tackled.

"Overall, the MV X Press Pearl is currently assessed as being stable and not having issues with water tight integrity," the Indian High Commission had stated on Friday.

External fire-fighting using foam and boundary cooling by sea-water along the entire length of vessel from either side is under progress and continuous monitoring of vessel’s draught, list conditions and presence of hazardous and noxious substances overboard is being undertaken. Quantity of combustible material onboard is estimated to be limited. The ICG ships will continue to assess the situation and the decision to board or approach closer to the vessel will be taken after fully dousing the fire and undertaking sufficient boundary cooling.

Containers that fell from the vessel were identified and threat assessment for navigation safety have already been carried out and shared with relevant Sri Lankan authorities.

"Aerial surveillance and assessment by (CGDO) has confirmed no leakage of fuel from vessel so far. CG Dornier will continue to conduct regular aerial assessment of the area by for oil spill," the statement added.

The Indian side is guided by the 'Neighbourhood First policy' and remains committed to deepening cooperation with Sri Lanka in the sphere of disaster management and mitigation on the high seas and relevant coastal waters on the basis of mutual respect and goodwill.

By tradition, India has been the first responder to Sri Lanka's HADR demands. A potentially huge oil spill was averted with assistance from India after MT New Diamond with 200,000 metric tons crude oil on board caught fire off Sri Lanka’s Eastern Coast in September 2020. Three Indian Naval Ships had also rushed with assistance following the floods in Sri Lanka in May 2017.

Meanwhile, more than 300 Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) personnel from Katunayake base have launched a cleaning programme along the coastal belt area from Dungalpitiya to Pitipana (7Km) to prevent people from collecting harmful wreckages, floating items and clean the coastal areas affected by the ill-fated container ship, X-Press Pearl.

Sri Lanka Vesell Fire

During the cleaning programme, SLAF troops plan to clean all remains that are harmful to humans and to the natural environment.

This was done after a request was made by the Disaster Management Centre to the Lankan Ministry of Defence (MOD) and on the directives received to the Sri Lanka Air Force from the Commander of the Air Force, Air Marshal Sudarshana Pathirana.