The sources of fire are changing. Once the engines used to catch fire, but now there is a possibility of fire from the goods kept in the ship.
The Sri Lankan Navy extinguishes the fire on the ship (File Photo)
Hundreds of dead turtles are still being washed away on the beach in Sri Lanka, even after almost two months have passed since a fire broke out in a newly built cargo ship near Colombo port. The ship ‘X-Press Pearl’ had 1486 containers and it was burning for two weeks. It then sank in early June and was the cause of one of Sri Lanka’s biggest environmental disasters.
The chemicals polluted the water, killed the sea creatures and ruined their breeding grounds. Among the contaminants in the ocean are nitric acid, sodium dioxide, copper and lead, and tons of plastic pellets that can take centuries to decompose. Local fishermen, who depend entirely on fishing for their livelihood, have been ordered not to fish. Now there is a danger of a large-scale oil spill in the environment, which the authorities are trying to stop with international aid. The local police have launched a criminal investigation. Meanwhile, the Center for Environmental Justice has filed a fundamental rights petition in the Sri Lankan Supreme Court.
Was carelessness in packing the reason for the fire?
In the wake of the disaster, many people tried to tell where did the mistake happen? But they largely left out a broader but important issue that the disaster has exposed – the tension between economic growth and environmental security. This makes shipping sometimes far from the realm of ultra-free trade and sometimes unregulated. It is believed that proper information was given about the nitric acid being stored on the ship, but a leak due to improperly packaged or misplaced storage caused the fire in the X-Press Pearl.
Nitric acid is a corrosive, toxic and flammable liquid and it was 25 tons on board. Nitric acid is actually an important element of ammonium nitrate. Ammonium nitrate is a popular fertilizer used around the world as well as a raw material used in the production of explosives. Onboard fire is a clear risk to the life of crew members and to the environment. Despite this, fires often occur on cargo ships.
The second biggest reason for fire after charcoal is improper packaging of these malls or lack of proper declaration about the chemicals in them. In fact, the figures indicate the potential for over 1,50,000 annual cases of undeclared or mispronounced dangerous goods capable of starting a fire. The cases may be higher depending on the shipping route.
The reason for the fire being made in the shape of ships
Another factor in the risk of fire is competition between shipping companies based on freight capacity and efficiency. Due to this, there has been a significant increase in the size of the cargo ships, which has also increased the risk of fire. The sheer size of the ship also makes it difficult to locate the site of the fire immediately unless it has spread significantly.
Fire safety measures on ships can be improved by adopting better training and modalities. The SOLAS (Safety of Life at Sea) rules govern aboard firefighting measures, but these are now obsolete and require amendments to these rules, which came into force in the 1980s, which are currently in use for ultra-large ships such as the X-Press Pearl. be in line with.
Could the fire on the X-Press Pearl ship have been avoided?
A leak in nitric acid stored on board the X-Press Pearl was detected at Hamad port in Qatar but it rejected the ship’s request to unload the container. The ship later made the same request from Hazira port in Gujarat but the container was not allowed to land there too. If either port had allowed the container to be unloaded, the disaster at sea could have been avoided. Now the question is why did he refuse? What were his commitments in such circumstances?
Their actions are unlikely to be taken into account in the official investigation, which will mainly focus on the cause of the fire and the steps taken by the crew. However, these answers reveal very difficult conditions of shipping operations. Both the ports claimed that they did not have the manpower and equipment required to land the leaked container. However, it is difficult to imagine that these recently built, state-of-the-art and well-processed facilities would not have the means to deal with nitric acid spillage, according to the corporate websites of both the ports.
Ports may be hesitant to accommodate vessels containing hazardous materials because they lack emergency and disaster planning and preparedness. Adopting hazard and environmental policies is one thing, but actually implementing them is quite another. To do so would require training for the potential threat and having the necessary equipment and resources. Competition among ports has also added to this challenge. Ports aim to move more and more ships from here, so physical testing of the contents of containers is not possible.
How will future accidents stop?
There are three ways to deal with this issue – strict enforcement of the International Maritime Dangerous Goods Regulations, which govern their handling and storage. Improved training for supply chain personnel who enforce these rules. Countries from which cargo ships are operating and issue of strict sanctions by shipping companies.
The investigation into the X-Press Pearl accident will reveal whether the crew members sought priority accommodation when the ship was engulfed in flames at Colombo port. In general, priority is given to ships in distress, but nations can deny entry to ships if they are expected to pose a serious threat to the environment or to the safety of people.
In view of the large size of the ships and the uncertain nature of the danger posed by the cargo in them, it is a general rule to refuse entry. It is important that we do not forget to treat the X-Press Pearl as yet another fire accident in a ship at sea. This event should become the vehicle of change.
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