Town's marine experts to support Sri Lanka after 'devastating' fire

Plastic pollution on the beach in Sri Lanka after the X-Press Pearl vessel sank.

Plastic pollution on the beach in Sri Lanka after the X-Press Pearl vessel sank. - Credit: Courtesy of Cefas

Marine experts based in Lowestoft are set to support the Sri Lankan government after a devastating fire aboard a container ship off the coast of Colombo.

The Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas) - a world leader in marine science and technology - will be providing marine pollution expertise after the vessel sank earlier this month following the major blaze.

The X-Press Pearl - a 610ft long Singapore-registered container ship - caught fire on May 20 and the blaze raged for 12 days, before the vessel eventually sank on June 2.

Now, a global effort is under way to help respond to the potentially devastating impact on the marine life and coastal habitats of Sri Lanka.

The Cefas headquarters in Lowestoft. Picture: Mick Howes

The Cefas headquarters in Lowestoft. - Credit: Mick Howes

From its headquarters at Pakefield Road in Lowestoft, Cefas will be providing expertise as they team up in partnership with the Sri Lankan Government academics and authorities over an effective emergency response and implementation of a post spill integrated monitoring plan.  

Cefas will also provide analytical capacity to support plastic pollution monitoring, as well as environmental and socio economic impact assessments.

A Cefas spokesman said: "In the first instance, Cefas is working to assist in the laboratory analysis of post spill monitoring samples, particularly plastic pellets, and potential chemical contamination."

Plastic pollution on the beach in Sri Lanka after the X-Press Pearl vessel sank.

Plastic pollution on the beach in Sri Lanka after the X-Press Pearl vessel sank. - Credit: Courtesy of Cefas

Most Read

From the Lowestoft laboratory the experts will work collaboratively to support the understanding of expected consequences for key marine and coastal habitats and species - including mangroves, seagrass and coral reefs.

The spokesman added: "Following the initial response, Cefas will continue to collaborate with the emergency response teams in Sri Lanka to provide guidance and training to build their expertise further for future incidents, with the aim of protecting biodiversity and safeguarding livelihoods, dependent on the marine environment.

"Work will also be done to assess the impact of the pollution on the surrounding area."

International Environment Minister, Lord Goldsmith, said: “The X-Press Pearl vessel fire and the release of plastic pellets and chemicals along the Sri Lankan coast has already had devastating impacts, and it will likely cause long term harm to the environment, local fisheries and livelihoods."

Cefas Marine Litter Scientist, Dr Umberto Binetti, said: “We are concerned by the possible effects of the pollutants spilled from the vessel, not only on the environment, but also on local communities in Sri Lanka.

"We are preparing a series of actions to provide support in monitoring the situation."