Shipping boss sorry for 'harm' to Sri Lanka as chemical-laden cargo ship burns and sinks

ITV News Correspondent Geraint Vincent reports on the potential consequences for the marine environment after a shipping container caught fire off the coast of Sri Lanka

The boss of a shipping company has apologised for the "harm" caused by a fire-ravaged cargo ship, laden with chemicals, currently sinking off the coast of Sri Lanka.

Debris from the Singapore-flagged MV X-Press Pearl, including tons of plastic pellets and burned fiberglass, continued to wash ashore on Friday.

Meanwhile authorities are prepared for oil and chemical leaks from the ship, which started sinking about 80 kilometers (50 miles) off the country's main port on Wednesday.

The boat had been burning for 12 days before the vessel began to take on water.

Tons of plastic pellets continue to wash ashore. Credit: AP

Shumel Yoskovitz, the chief executive of the ship’s operators X-Press Feeders, apologised for the disaster in an interview with Channel News Asia.

"I’d like to express my deep regret and apology to the Sri Lankan people for the harm this incident has caused both to the livelihood and environment of Sri Lanka," Mr Yoskovitz said.

A fishing ban in the area has hit local people hard, many of whom rely on it for food and livelihoods.

Sri Lankan man, Kindston Jayalath fishes on a polluted beach filled with plastic pellets washed ashore from the fire-damaged container ship. Credit: AP

A lone fisherman, Kinson Jayalath, was defying the ban Friday on Kepumgoda beach.

He said he was trying to catch food for his family but was growing frustrated by the lack of fish in an area where he said there had been plenty just a week ago.

While fishing is still allowed in deeper waters, sales of seafood have plummeted because consumers fear chemical contamination, said Herman Kumara of the National Fisheries Solidarity Movement.

How attempts to lessen the blow of the disaster, failed

The fire erupted on May 20 and raged for 12 days before authorities could fully extinguish it.

X-Press Feeders have said the fire destroyed most of the ship’s cargo, which included 25 tons of nitric acid and other chemicals. It has said salvage experts were remaining with the vessel to monitor its condition and any pollution.

As the vessel began to sink, crews tried to tow it into deeper waters away from the port but failed after the ship’s stern became submerged and rested on the seabed.

Sri Lankan police are probing the fire, and a court in Colombo on Tuesday banned the captain, the engineer and the assistant engineer from leaving the country.

The government has said it will take legal action against the owners of the ship to claim compensation.