Fire-stricken container vessel sinking off Sri Lanka port

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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Salvage experts were attempting to tow a fire-stricken container ship that had been loaded with chemicals into the deep sea as the vessel started to sink Wednesday off Sri Lanka’s main port, officials said.

Water submerged the MV X-Press Pearl’s quarterdeck a day after firefighters extinguished a blaze that had been burning for 12 days.

Experts were trying to tow the ship farther out to sea because if it sank at its current position off the port of Colombo it would cause severe pollution, navy spokesperson Indika de Silva said.

As a precautionary measure, the authorities reimposed a fishing ban along about 80 kilometers (50 miles) of the coast.

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

The navy believes the blaze was caused by the chemicals being transported on the Singapore-flagged vessel. It 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 blaze destroyed most of the ship’s cargo and polluted surrounding waters and a long stretch of the island nation’s famed beaches.

Sri Lankan police are probing the fire and a court in Colombo on Tuesday imposed a travel ban on the captain, the engineer and the assistant engineer from leaving the country. The government has said it will take legal action against the owners of the ship to claim compensation.

The vessel’s 25-member crew was evacuated last week after an explosion. They include Philippine, Chinese, Indian and Russian nationals.

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