COLOMBO • A black box from a ship loaded with chemical and plastic that is sinking off Sri Lanka has been located, officials said yesterday, as investigators probe what caused the vessel to catch fire.
The voyage data recorder (VDR), also known as a maritime "black box", enables investigators to review procedures and instructions ahead of an accident.
The Sri Lankan authorities said they hope it will provide details of the ship's movements and its communications with the harbour in the capital Colombo, where it had been due to dock. "The navy facilitated technicians to remove the VDR from the bridge which is still above the waterline," navy spokesman Indika de Silva told Agence France-Presse.
The Singapore-registered X-Press Pearl has been slowly sinking into the Indian Ocean since last Wednesday, after a fire that raged for nearly two weeks within sight of the coast. The ship, carrying 25 tonnes of nitric acid and a huge amount of plastic raw materials, was heading to Colombo from Gujarat, India. Sri Lankan officials have said an acid leak since May 11 may have sparked the blaze. Ports in Qatar and India had refused to offload the leaking nitric acid, they added.
Police in the island nation launched a criminal investigation, interviewing the vessel's skipper and chief engineer - both Russians - as well as its chief officer, an Indian, and seizing their passports. The authorities are bracing themselves for a possible oil spill but there has been no sign of any leaks so far, they added.
Tonnes of microplastic granules from the ship swamped an 80km stretch of beach declared off-limits to residents. Fishing in the area was also banned.