Plastic 'snow' from container ship fire 'could take 1,000 years to degrade'


The private Centre for Environmental Justice is suing the Sri Lankan government and operators of a container ship that is sinking into the Indian Ocean after burning for almost two weeks offshore.

Environmentalists sued the Sri Lankan government last week after a container ship loaded with dangerous chemicals and plastics burned off the coast in the Indian Sea for just under two weeks. The Center for Environmental Justice (CEJ) filed a lawsuit against the operators of the ship as well, and activists are calling for an independent inquiry into the disaster.

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka is now dealing with a growing environmental disaster as large amounts of plastic pellets, chemicals and oil from the sinking ship blanket its coastline. The mix of residue that littered the beaches there was described as plastic "snow."

Hemantha Withaanage, executive director of CEJ, expects the waste to take 1,000 years to degrade saying, “this will be a long-lasting environmental pollution.” Experts say the pellets still in the sea could travel as far as India.

The legal challenge against the government and operators seeks unspecified damages, claiming the crew was aware of an acid leak on May 11, long before the ship entered Sri Lankan waters, and it should never have been allowed in. The ship’s owners say they could not fix the problem because Qatar and India would not allow the ship to dock. Sri Lankan officials believe the fire that broke out on May 20 was caused by the leaking acid.

A hearing date has yet to be set.

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