Sri Lanka interviews burning cargo ship crew as ecological devastation assessed

Negombo, Sri Lanka: Criminal investigators in Sri Lanka began interviewing the crew of a burning cargo ship on Monday, as the ship, registered in Singapore, smoldered for the 12th day in one of the island's worst-ever marine ecological disasters.

On May 20, a fire broke out aboard the MV X-Press Pearl, which was carrying 25 tonnes of nitric acid and a large quantity of plastic raw ingredients as it approached Colombo harbor.

Much of the cargo has been destroyed by the powerful flames that are still blazing at the back of the 186-meter (610-foot) vessel, with some of it falling into the Indian Ocean.

Tons of microplastic granules from the ship and its roughly 1,500 containers have flooded Sri Lanka's famous beaches, imposing a fishing ban and raising worries of ecological disaster.

Dharshani Lahandapura, the chief of the Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA), said the ecological damage was still being assessed, but that it was the "worst ever in my lifetime."

According to a police official, the Police Inspector-General has instructed the Criminal Investigation Department to investigate the fire as well as the massive environmental damage it caused.

"The 25-member crew have completed their quarantine and we are able to question them today," a police spokesman said.

The captain of the vessel was aware of a nitric acid leak on May 11 before entering Sri Lankan seas, according to MEPA.

Authorities are preparing to sue the vessel's owners and crew, as well as seek compensation from insurers.

Officials stated the fire had been put out since Sunday, but that the ship continued to smoke on Monday and that high monsoon winds were fanning flames at the ship's back.

It was still too hot for them to attempt to board the wrecked ship, they said.

SMIT, an international salvage company, is leading operations to put out the fires, with help from the Sri Lankan navy and the Indian coast guard.

The three-month-old ship was sailing from Gujarat, India, to Colombo.

It had previously visited Qatar and Dubai, and after calling on Colombo, it was scheduled to travel to Malaysia and Singapore.

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