Captain of burnt, sunken Sri Lankan container ship arrested after environmental disaster and oil spill fears

The captain of a cargo ship which caught fire and sank off the coast of Sri Lanka earlier this month while transporting almost 1,500 containers of chemicals has been arrested, police said on Monday.

The Singapore-flagged MV X-Press Pearl reported a leak from acid it was carrying and caught fire on May 20, the day it was due to dock in Sri Lanka’s Port of Colombo.

The blaze burned for 13 days before being extinguished, but most parts of the ship sank in early June, shedding its toxic cargo and sparking fears of an imminent oil spill.

The captain of the vessel has now been arrested by officers from Sri Lanka’s Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and brought before Colombo High Court, police spokesperson DIG Ajith Rohana said on Monday.

The skipper, who local media reported is Russian, was ordered not to leave the country while the investigation takes place. Later on Monday, he was released from custody on bail of 2 million Sri Lankan rupees ($10,000).

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As part of its investigation into the environmental disaster, the CID has questioned the captain along with several other members of the crew, including the chief engineer.

Rohana said the captain was arrested at a hotel where he and the ship’s other staff were staying in the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo.

The arrest comes after the country’s government put in a claim for $40 million with the X-Press Pearl’s operator, X-Press Feeders, on Sunday.

However, the Singapore-based company has pointed out that there have not been any reports of a spill from the 350 metric tons of oil the ship was carrying at the time of the fire.

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“Inspections thus far by Sri Lankan Navy divers have found no evidence of a breach to the ship’s fuel oil tanks,” the firm said in a statement.

Despite no reports of oil leaking, some of the cargo from the ship’s 1,486 containers has washed up on Sri Lankan beaches, where a fishing ban has been introduced along an 80-kilometer stretch of coastline due to the incident.

The country’s Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA) filed a complaint with Colombo police over the incident on May 23.

On Sunday, MEPA chief Dharshani Lahandapura said officials had removed some 1,000 metric tonnes of waste from beaches, with the cleanup area stretching across 200 kilometers of coastline.

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