Did sinking ship spill 75 tons of oil into the sea?

by Suresh Perera

The vessel that sank off Panadura may have spilt 75 tons of oil into the ocean but an exact quantification of the spill and the extent of the marine pollution caused by the slick cannot still be assessed, a senior official said yesterday.

"Originally, the ship’s tanks held 350 tons but most of it was pumped out in semi-solid form. But another 75 tons remained at the time it ran aground", says Jagath Gunasekara, Manager (Operations), Marine Environmental Protection Authority.

The navy had monitored a slick eight kilometers long and 350 meters wide but the formation seems to have moved away into the deep seas with the current wind pattern", he said.

This big oil formation would have disintegrated and parts of its washed ashore, as seen in some areas, he explained. "We are constantly monitoring the developments".

"The latest information we have is that an oil slick has been observed at Marawila and a team has already been dispatched to tackle the situation", Gunasekara noted.

He said that a cleaning operation was launched in the beach behind the Wellawatte railway station yesterday morning and deposits of oil on the shore removed. A Ports Authority tug is also on stand-by to spray dispersants, if the necessity arose.

Asked whether some fish were found dead, he replied, "Yes, about two or three ‘buffer fish’ which generally die whether there is an oil slick or not. Anyway, we have sent samples to NARA for tests on toxicity".

There could be damage to marine life, if the slick breaches the shallow water reef, the Manager pointed out. "The navy has reported that the leak has now stopped".

"We are on stand-by to move in if our services are required", said Major General (Retd) Gamini Hettiarachchi, Director-General, Disaster Management Centre.

There seems to be no major threat to Sri Lanka’s marine life as a result of pollution caused by the oil slick, he noted.

The situation is being constantly monitored, he assured. "As of now, everything is under control".

The vessel was being held for some months on a judicial directive when it started to list.

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