Colombo - Hundreds of turtles have washed ashore after a ship caught fire and sank off the west coast of Sri Lanka in June in the country's worst-ever marine disaster, acourt in the capital Colombo heard this week. A fire erupted on the Singapore-registered MV X-Press Pearlon May 20, carrying 1,486 containers, including 25 tonnes ofnitric acid along with other chemicals and cosmetics. It sank onJune 2 even as salvage crew tried to tow the vessel away fromthe coast.
The Russian captain of the ship appeared in court on Thursday but has yet to be charged in a case environmentalexperts say is Sri Lanka's worst man-made environmental disaster. The toxins released from the ship have killed 176 turtles,20 dolphins and four whales, Deputy Solicitor General, Madawa Tennakoon, said at an initial court hearing on Wednesday. A video by a local television station seen by Reuters showed carcasses of dead sea turtles and countless plastic pelletsscattered over the shore with several volunteers working toclear them. "There were more than 190 items of cargo (on the ship) andmost of it was plastic-based," Environment Minister Mahinda Amaraweera told reporters. "During the south-western monsoon season, sea creaturesnever die in this way. Most of these carcasses are found on thewest coast directly affected by the shipwreck." The government has named 15 people -- including the captain,Tyutkalo Vitaly -- as co-accused in cases over the damagecaused. Vitaly made no comment when leaving the court on Thursday after the procedural hearing and could not be reachedfor further comment. He has been barred from leaving the country. Authorities said last week they had lifted a ban on fishingin parts of the affected coast, though experts say risks tomarine life from the disaster remain.