Microplastic Pollution in Coastal Water Environments Due to a Maritime Disaster: X-Press Pearl Shipwreck Case Study

Event: 7IMDC Evidence-Based Policy for Environmentally Sound Management of Plastics in Asia-Pacific Region
Date: 2022-09-19.
X-press pearl ship

Contamination by microplastics has become a burning environmental concern due to their rapid distribution in the oceans. Oceans receive a large number of microplastics annually via river waters, direct dumping, and transportation. The cargo ship of X-Press Pearl was sunken in the seabed at a depth of about 21 m which was anchored off Colombo Port around ~9.5 km offshore. The ship was transporting diverse goods of cargo, and eighty-one of those containers were carrying dangerous commodities including 78 tons of low-density polyethylene pellets. This disaster released these plastic pellets into the coastal water and water currents spread them around the coastal water of Sri Lanka. Hence, to test the availability of released plastics in coastal water around Negombo after one month of the disaster water samples were collected from six locations along the west coast of Sri Lanka using a specially designed microplastic sampler of Albatrosses. The microplastics in the water samples were analyzed using a stereomicroscope and Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy. Low-density polyethylene pellets were found in all six locations which were released from the shipwreck, and the highest amount was found near the shipwreck location. Burned low-density polyethylene pellets were also found near the shipwreck area. It was very clear that accidental spills (such as X-press pearl) could increase very high degree microplastic concentrations compared to the background.