X-Press Pearl Fire: Harbour Master sets the record straight


The following is a statement based on remarks made by
Captain Nirmal de Silva, Harbor Master of the Sri Lanka Ports Authority at the press conference held yesterday in Colombo to clarify the incident surrounding the fire on X-Press Pearl, a container ship during her anchorage at the Colombo Port. 

The rumour that this ship, X-Press Pearl was barred from entering two ports prior to its arrival at the Port of Colombo is untrue. The ship had docked at both ports and carried out relevant port operations. When this ship arrived in Colombo we were given a general notice. General notifications was made on the types of containers on board, the list of dangerous cargos, and the transshipment cargos which needs to be processed at the Port of Colombo.

Accordingly, the ship was allowed to enter our anchorage. While anchored in the outer harbour around 00:30 hours on 20th, the next day they informed us that there was a container with a chemical leak that they needed permission to repair ( reworking). Reworking container operations with such leaks have been carried out at the Colombo Port in the past. Such reworking activities are not uncommon in the Port of Colombo. This is normal, especially in a hub port such as the Port of Colombo. It is a service not only in our port but also in other ports in general. We must be ready to provide all these services available in the shipping industry as a transshipment hub.

From the moment a dangerous cargo is loaded on a ship, its composition, nature and the way it is reported to us, we allow that ship to enter our port.

The ship was scheduled to enter the port of Colombo at around 12 at night. While we were working on it, we were informed by the ship that smoke was rising from the ship. But it was reported to us that the situation was contained for a while. Then at around 02.00 hours it was notified that smoke was coming again. Our team went and inspected it and found that there was no fire but the smoke was rising from the hatch section of the ship.

Later on the 20th, it was reported that there was a fire at around 11.00 pm. We did our best to overcome that situation. However, when the fire on the ship became more complex, the owners of the ship were informed to provide the necessary specialist facilities to control the situation.

Accordingly, they requested the specialist company to do this work. We also gave them our full support. At around 02.00 pm on the 24th, the weather became unusually severe fueling the fire to spread throughout the area. Due to the inclement weather, it was difficult for our tugboats to operate from there. The condition of the ship deteriorated. On the 25th we took action to evacuate the crew of the ship to safety.

A fire on a container ship or other vessel is not new. It is also clear that as the size of these container vessels increases, so does the likelihood of such situations occurring.

Given all that we know now, we look forward to working with the relevant agencies on what needs to be done in the future.

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