European firefighters help Sri Lanka with 7-day ship fire

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Colombo, Sri Lanka

European firefighters and salvage experts have joined Sri Lankan crews battling a seven-day fire on board a container ship carrying chemicals, officials said Thursday.

The fire on board the MV X-Press Pearl, which is anchored off Sri Lanka’s capitaal Colombo, has spread to the quarterdeck where the ship’s bridge is located, and a large number of containers have tumbled into the sea.

X-Press Feeders, which operates the ship, said firefighters and salvage experts flown in from Europe were working with local authorities to try to save the vessel and its cargo despite the adverse weather due to the onset of southwest monsoons.

The 25 crew members evacuated the ship on Tuesday after an explosion. Two of the crew sustained leg injuries and they remain in a hospital, the company said, adding that the others were in a quarantine facility in Colombo.

On Thursday, Sri Lanka navy spokesman Indika de Silva said the efforts to douse the blaze were continuing. Four tug boats and three Sri Lankan and Indian vessels have joined the operation.

The fire erupted May 20 when the ship was anchored about 9.5 nautical miles (18 kilometers) northwest of Colombo and waiting to enter its port.

India has deployed three ships, one tugboat and a Dornier aircraft to help firefighting and pollution control on the request of Sri Lankan authorities, the Indian Embassy in Sri Lanka said. The first vessel arrived in the capital Colombo on Tuesday night.

The MV X-Press Pearl was anchored about 9.5 nautical miles (18 kilometers) northwest of Colombo and waiting to enter its port when the fire began six days ago.

The navy believes the fire was caused by chemicals being transported on the Singapore-flagged ship.

The ship was carrying 1,486 containers, including 25 tons of nitric acid and other chemicals that were loaded at the port of Hazira, India, on May 15.

The vessel’s 25-member crew includes Philippine, Chinese, Indian and Russian nationals.

X-Press Feeders, which owns and operates the ship, confirmed the crew was safe and said it would work closely with Sri Lankan authorities and emergency services to extinguish the blaze and save the vessel and its cargo.

It said specialized firefighting equipment arrived from Europe and would also join the salvaging operations.—AP