X-Press Pearl: UK marine experts to support Sri Lanka with pollution response following fire

Cefas will initially assist in the laboratory analysis of post spill monitoring samples, particularly plastic pellets and potential chemical contamination

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The UK Government is providing marine pollution expertise to help respond to the potentially devastating impact on marine life and coastal habitats of Sri Lanka following an environmental disaster last month.

The X-Press Pearl cargo vessel carrying chemicals caught fire off the coast of Sri Lanka in May, which raged for 12 days.

At the request of the Sri Lanka Government, the UK Government’s Centre for the Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas) will provide expertise and analytical capacity to support plastic pollution monitoring as well as environmental and socio-economic impact assessments.

The Cefas team will work with government departments, academics and responsible authorities in Sri Lanka to support effective emergency response and implementation of a post-spill integrated monitoring plan.

The experts, from their UK laboratory in Lowestoft, will initially assist in the laboratory analysis of post spill monitoring samples, particularly plastic pellets and potential chemical contamination.

Work will also be done to assess the impact of the pollution on the surrounding area, by contributing to modelling to understand the dispersal of the pollutants, to help with short term mitigation and clean-up action, as well as longer term risk prevention.

International Environment Minister Lord Goldsmith said: “The X-Press Pearl vessel fire and the release of plastic pellets and chemicals along the Sri Lankan coast has already had devastating impacts and it will likely cause long term harm to the environment, local fisheries and livelihoods.

“I’m pleased that the UK is able to use its world-leading scientific expertise to advise on the clean-up effort and support plastic pollution monitoring. But this disaster again shines a light on the fragile nature of our marine environment.

“We are determined to play our part in supporting developing countries to protect and restore their coastal ecosystems with our £500 million Blue Planet Fund launched at the G7 by the Prime Minister.”

Following the initial response, the Cefas team will continue to collaborate with the emergency response teams in Sri Lanka to provide guidance and training to build their expertise further for future incidents.

S. Hasanthi Urugodawatte Dissanayake, Director General of Ocean Affairs, Environment and Climate Change, Ministry of Foreign Relations of Sri Lanka added: “Damage to the marine environment is a cause for concern for all those who are looking towards the oceans for the future progression of mankind.

“In this spirit of co-operation on environmental issues, Sri Lanka appreciates this initiative by the Government of UK offering assistance to understand the impact on marine environment, with opportunities for long term collaboration.”

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