Indian Coast Guard (ICG) is working tirelessly to extinguish the massive fire onboard container vessel MV X-Press Pearl off Colombo, Sri Lanka. The challenging round-the-clock fire-fighting operation, underway since May 25, 2021 jointly with Sri Lankan authorities, has been named as Operation Sagar Aaraksha 2 which symbolises growing maritime cooperation between India and Sri Lanka.
At present, three Indian Coast Guard ships and four tugs deployed by Sri Lanka are involved in the operation and continuously fighting the fire by spraying AFFF and seawater using external fire-fighting systems. The non-stop joint firefighting efforts have yielded positive results with increasing signs of fire being under control. Smoke density has also reduced. The fire has been localised to a small area near the aft section of the vessel.
The ICG ships ‘Vaibhav’ and ‘Vajra’, in addition to their fire-fighting capabilities, are also equipped with adequate Pollution Response (PR) capabilities for the oil spills. The presence of a specialized PR vessel ICGS Samudra Prahari since May 29, 2021 has provided added strength to overall PR capabilities. Additionally, ICG Dornier aircraft sorties are being undertaken daily from Madurai for aerial assessment of the situation. Reports from the ships and aircraft indicate that there has been no oil spill. Further, with the careful and measured execution of firefighting operation, no change has been observed in trim and draught of the vessel indicating that the stability and watertight integrity of the vessel is intact.
The ICG ships and Sri Lankan tugs are undertaking continuous boundary cooling. Also, the dropping of DCP bags over the burning vessel is being undertaken by a Sri Lankan helicopter to contain and extinguish the metallic fire.ICG formations at Kochi, Chennai, and Tuticorin remain on standby for immediate assistance, if any, towards Pollution Response. Indian Coast Guard is closely monitoring the situation and maintaining continuous liaison with Sri Lankan Navy, Coast Guard, Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA), and other authorities.
A similar joint operation between the two countries was named Sagar Aaraksha in September 2020 when ICG Ships and Sri Lankan authorities were involved in a fire-fighting operation onboard MT New Diamondoff on the East Coast of Sri Lanka. MT New Diamond was carrying 2,70,000 Metric Tonnes of crude oil at the time of the incident and a major oil spill was averted due to the joint effort by ICG and Sri Lankan authorities