Dead Sri Lankan Turtle
Hundreds of dead sea creatures have washed ashore a month after the MV X-Press Pearl container ship caught fire and sank off the coast of Colombo.
  • Hundreds of dead sea creatures washed up on Sri Lanka's shores after a ship caught fire in May.
  • The ship was carrying toxic chemicals and sank in early June.
  • Marine species "never die in this way" around this period, said Sri Lanka's environment minister.
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Carcasses of 176 turtles, 20 dolphins, and four whales have washed up on Sri Lankan shores after a cargo ship carrying toxic chemicals sank off the coast of Colombo, government officials said in court on Wednesday.

The marine life was killed by toxins released from the MV X-Press Pearl when it caught fire on May 20 and sank on June 2, said Deputy Solicitor General Madawa Tennakoon, reported Reuters. The shipwreck has been called one of the worst environmental disasters in Sri Lanka's history.

The 610-foot X-Press Pearl was carrying more than 1,000 containers, including 25 metric tons of nitric acid, which is used in fertilizers and explosives, along with 350 metric tons of fuel.

It also had 78 tons of plastic pellets called nurdles on board, which can absorb toxins and are often mistaken for food by marine species. Salvage crews and soldiers are still clearing billions of these pellets – which can be lethal to animals if consumed – from Sri Lanka's coast.

Fishing, which thousands of locals rely on for income, was banned in the area as oil, ship debris, and toxins spilled into the ocean.

Most of the dead marine life on the coast is directly related to these chemicals, Environment Minister Mahinda Amaraweera told reporters, according to Reuters. "During the south-western monsoon season, sea creatures never die in this way," he said.

The X-Press Pearl is believed to have caught fire due to a nitric acid leak in one of its containers, which its crew flagged before it entered Sri Lankan waters, per The New York Times. Its Singapore-based operator, X-Press Feeders, said the ship had been turned down from ports in India and Qatar when it tried to unload the leaking container.

Fifteen people, including the ship's Russian captain, have been accused of violating Sri Lanka's Marine Pollution Prevention Act and face civil claims for pollution damage from the shipwreck.

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