A man walks past sacks containing debris washed ashore from the Singapore-registered container ship MV X-Press Pearl which is sinking after burning for almost two weeks in the sea off Sri Lanka's Colombo Harbour, on June 3, 2021. (Photo by LAKRUWAN WANNIARACHCHI/AFP via Getty Images)

ENVIRONMENTALISTS sued the Sri Lankan government and operators of a container ship loaded with chemicals and plastic that burned offshore for almost two weeks, as international experts prepared to deal with a possible oil spill.

The private Centre for Environment Justice (CEJ) petitioned the Supreme Court on Friday (4) alleging that local authorities should have been able to prevent what they called the “worst marine disaster” in Sri Lanka’s history.

The Singapore-registered MV X-Press Pearl has been slowly sinking into the Indian Ocean since Wednesday (2) after a fire that raged for 13 days within sight of the coast.

The CEJ said government inaction was “against the concepts and principles of environmental law”. A hearing is yet to be fixed.

It said the crew knew of an acid leak on May 11, long before entering Sri Lankan waters, and local authorities should not have allowed the vessel in.

The legal challenge seeking unspecified damages came as foreign experts were deployed to help Sri Lanka contain a potential oil leak from the burnt-out wreckage.

Representatives from the International Tankers Owners Pollution Federation (ITOPF) and Oil Spill Response (OSR) were onshore monitoring the ship, the operators of the vessel, X-Press Feeders, said.

Choppy seas and poor visibility prevented navy divers from checking the hull for a second day Friday (4), Sri Lanka navy spokesperson Indika de Silva said.

He said a team reached the sinking vessel and made a cursory inspection on Thursday (3), but could not carry out their mission because of poor visibility.