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Sri Lankan launches search operation for data records from burnt ship

Container ship burnt near the Colombo Port

Colombo, June 4 (UITV/IANS) The Sri Lankan government announced that it has launched a search operation to locate the Voyage Data Recorder (VDR) from the Singapore-flagged X Press Pearl container ship which caught fire in the outskirts of the Colombo Port last month.

In a media briefing here on Thursday, officials said the VDR will be used to listen to the conversations that the vessel's captain had with other crew members before and during the eruption of the fire, reports Xinhua news agency.

This would help in the investigations to determine the exact cause of the blaze, the officials added.

The Sri Lankan Navy said it was also looking out for an oil leak as the vessel remained entirely burnt, 18.5 km away from the Colombo Port.

Towing operations which started on Wednesday morning had to be halted a few hours after the rear end of the ship hit the sea bed, making it almost impossible to move it further into the deep seas.

Navy Spokesperson Captain Indika De Silva said the ship had partially sunk but the front end of was still afloat.

He said Navy divers swam to the bottom of the vessel to see if it could be towed but failed to do so due to the inclement weather conditions.

De Silva said the container vessel was carrying 321 tonnes of heavy fuel and investigations were underway to see if the oil had burnt off in the fire.

He said if the ship still carries the oil, the teams are ready for an oil spill and would prevent it within a limited area near the vessel.

The government said the fire onboard the vessel may have erupted due to a leak from one of the containers on board but a probe was ongoing to confirm this.

The X Press Pearl ship carrying 1,486 containers with 25 tonnes of nitric acid and several other chemicals and cosmetics, departed from India's Hazira Port on May 15.

The vessel sent out a distress call while sailing close to the Colombo Port on May 20 and soon caught fire.

The Marine Environment Protection Authority said the burning of the vessel caused a massive environmental disaster as beaches along the southern and western coast have been damaged by the debris washed ashore.

The government said a large number of marine life have been killed as a result of the pollution caused by the fire, while the Fisheries Department has imposed a temporary ban on fishing from the southern to the western coast.