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posted by Fnord666 on Sunday June 06, @01:03PM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]

The Ship Sinking Off Sri Lanka Looks Like A Lasting Environmental Disaster

A sinking cargo ship off the coast of Sri Lanka is causing an environmental disaster for the country that looks set to have long-term effects.

The X-Press Pearl caught fire on May 20 and burned for two weeks, but the fire appears to have mostly burned out. The crew was evacuated. The ship is now partially sitting on the seabed with its front settling down slowly.

Its cargo is the concern: The ship was carrying dangerous chemicals, including 25 tons of nitric acid and 350 tons of fuel oil. The ship's operator says oil has not spilled so far. But what's already having an impact on beaches nearby are the 78 metric tons of plastic called nurdles — the raw material used to make most types of plastic products.

Wave after wave of plastic pellets are washing ashore. The ship is about 5 miles from the nearest beach.

Also at The Guardian.


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  • (Score: -1, Troll) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 06, @01:42PM (1 child)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 06, @01:42PM (#1142357)

    ... until Al Gore finds a way to monetize it.

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 06, @01:46PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 06, @01:46PM (#1142359)

    The next day it will vanish.

  • (Score: 4, Informative) by Mojibake Tengu on Sunday June 06, @02:17PM

    by Mojibake Tengu (8598) on Sunday June 06, @02:17PM (#1142365) Journal

    Strangely, the ship is pretty new.

    The vessel entered service in February 2021

    Complete story:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/X-Press_Pearl [wikipedia.org]

    Technically, I was looking for it at Lloyd's Register to lookup for responsible people (owners) like I did for several catastrophes a couple of years ago, but that one became unusable for public. What a shame. Wikipedia did the service though.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/X-Press_Feeders [wikipedia.org]

    --
    The edge of 太玄 cannot be defined, for it is beyond every aspect of design
  • (Score: 1, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 06, @02:20PM (6 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 06, @02:20PM (#1142366)

    25 tonnes of nitric acid is nothing if you dump it in the ocean, localized pH decrease and then an increase in biomass because nitrates are one of the limiting factors on sea-life.

    350 tonnes of oil is nastier, but compared to the Exxon Valdez which dropped about 100,000 tonnes it is pretty small.

    Pellets of plastic are harmless. They may be ugly, and you can clean them up if you don't like them, but realistically they are no more harmful than an equivalent bunch of rocks.

    • (Score: 3, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 06, @02:38PM (5 children)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 06, @02:38PM (#1142369)

      Pellets of plastic are harmless. They may be ugly, and you can clean them up if you don't like them, but realistically they are no more harmful than an equivalent bunch of rocks.

      On the contrary, this is by far the most harmful part of the spill. The acid is mostly useless in non-immediate terms, true. The oil, that will disappear within a few weeks and definitely months since it's in warm waters. Maybe people should not eat animals from the area because of the oil -- that may just be good for the animals. Sea life rebounded more from the fishing moratorium thanks to Deep Water Horizon than harmed by the oil. The plastic, on the other hand, is total crap that will not biodegrade.. Comparing it to inert rocks is utter ignorance.

      From TFA,

      images of fish washed ashore with plastic trapped in their gills. That plastic “will continue to be in our oceans for decades and decades to come, polluting our coastline, ingested by marine life and entering into our lagoon systems”, he said.

      The ship carries up to 2700 containers. What's in them is not just some acid and pellets. Unless someone gets the ship manifest, it's unknown what type of pollutants went into the water.

      • (Score: 1, Funny) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 06, @02:52PM (1 child)

        by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 06, @02:52PM (#1142371)

        But then there's also concern that these little particles, these pellets, can absorb chemical toxins from the ocean environment. And as they do so — and then they travel around, they obviously take these toxins with them.

        Sounds like the plastics are actually cleaning stuff up.

        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 06, @04:19PM

          by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 06, @04:19PM (#1142394)

          Cleaning up all the fish.

      • (Score: 1, Touché) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 06, @04:01PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 06, @04:01PM (#1142385)

        The plastic, on the other hand, is total crap that will not biodegrade.. Comparing it to inert rocks is utter ignorance.

        To play Bill's Advocate, rocks don't biodegrade either...

        Sounds like if plastic would just sink and stay sunk like a proper rock does, we wouldn't have a problem. The real problem with it is the fact that it floats around, absorbing all manner of shite, and then gets eaten by wandering wildlife that can't process it.

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 07, @04:18AM (1 child)

        by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 07, @04:18AM (#1142634)

        it depends on the type of plastic; I've seen some of my plastic things disintegrate after 15 years; if it is the same type of plastic that they use in lego then the shrimp may have something to play with for thousands of years;

        • (Score: 3, Funny) by driverless on Monday June 07, @08:32AM

          by driverless (4770) on Monday June 07, @08:32AM (#1142686)

          it depends on the type of plastic; I've seen some of my plastic things disintegrate after 15 years

          This plastic was from China, which means it's going to disintegrate after 18 months, just past the warranty period for whatever it was going to be used to manufacture...

  • (Score: 2, Interesting) by VLM on Sunday June 06, @04:09PM (14 children)

    by VLM (445) Subscriber Badge on Sunday June 06, @04:09PM (#1142389)

    To give some numbers to this argument:

    Post processed recycled plastic goes for ten cents to (less than) a dollar per pound. Lets say 15 cents per pound.

    The average wage in Sri Lanka in dollar equivalents is about $6/hr. Figure half that would be poor people work rather than call center or whatever Sri Lankans do. So

    So as long as a Sri Lankan citizen can fill a bucket with more than 20 pounds of beads per hour, they're better off cleaning beaches than whatever it is poor people do in Sri Lanka.

    Now this is where engineering gets interesting. I guarantee that if waves of this shit are washing up and making dunes, people can shovel more than 20 pounds per minute not hour. The next level of technology would be raking the nurdles up. Past that I'd say engineer some kind of hydraulic mesh dual separator where only stuff under 4 mm washes below and then the second mesh below lets anything under 2 mm wash thru. You'll catch quite a few rocks indeed... perhaps a density cyclone separator where rocks fall out the bottom and nurdles stay in suspension. Maybe some solar panels to pump the water?

    At some point the harvest will fall below 20 pounds per hour per employee plus capex.

    Toward the end I bet it'll be seasonal where you let the nurdles wash ashore for a couple weeks then sieve the entire beach again.

    I think it possible that some Sri Lanka engineers could make some money off this, at least in the early days, even without any funds for cleanup. I bet an enterprising etsy seller could sell reclaimed enviro-nurdles melted into some kind of crafty thing to status signaling crappy 'look at my halo' hippies in the USA for $15/pound, maybe even $150/pound, so there's that aspect of keeping the harvest profitable.

    I suppose a nice side effect of cleaning the trash off the beaches is you'll have nice trash free beaches, which is pretty nice side effect.

    Note that its always possible to burn plastic, creating a toxic superfund site. Yet its also possible to create a custom bespoke burner for almost any plastic that will burn clean or at least clean enough for 3rd world standards (cleaner than their existing cooking fires or unregulated motor exhaust). So quite a few nurdles collected will get burned instead of recycled. How does 15 cents per pound compare to 3rd world campfire cooking wood prices per pound?

    • (Score: 0, Funny) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 06, @04:21PM (1 child)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 06, @04:21PM (#1142395)

      It's always fucking lemonade with you, aint' it. Dog shit on your shoe? Scrape it into a cup and add some lemons, sell it to passers by on the street. Duh.

    • (Score: 2) by krishnoid on Sunday June 06, @07:21PM (5 children)

      by krishnoid (1156) on Sunday June 06, @07:21PM (#1142444)

      I'd mod you up, but gonna need a few citations.

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 06, @09:52PM (4 children)

        by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 06, @09:52PM (#1142483)

        It is quite a lot of bullshit. The different qualities and mixed colors make the plastic structurally unsuitable for much of anything, and the color mixing will make color options limited or require painting. On top of that, raw industrial plastic is incredibly cheap, so VLM's capitalist solution won't work until we hit peak oil or electric cars drive demand for oil down. Lurching from one crisis to the next hoping that humanity's scientists will be able to save us from the consequences is just not a smart approach to living.

        • (Score: 1, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 06, @09:54PM (1 child)

          by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 06, @09:54PM (#1142484)

          We don't even do science any more. We fund lottery-style innovation leaders and 21 year old entrepreneurs who sell pretty dreams.

          • (Score: 1, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 07, @12:41AM

            by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 07, @12:41AM (#1142557)

            Not really true, but as a trend depressingly accurate enough.

        • (Score: 2) by Reziac on Monday June 07, @02:59AM

          by Reziac (2489) on Monday June 07, @02:59AM (#1142607) Homepage

          So melt all the plastic together, dye it brown, mold it into "natural-finish" picnic tables and lawn furniture, and sell it to trendy westerners. It's still worth more than it was before.

        • (Score: 1, Interesting) by VLM on Monday June 07, @12:13PM

          by VLM (445) Subscriber Badge on Monday June 07, @12:13PM (#1142709)

          The different qualities and mixed colors make the plastic structurally unsuitable for much of anything

          I used post consumer recycling price from a google search; "someone" was buying recycling center plastic around that price in 2019.

          Its a surprisingly difficult figure to locate; I wanted post consumer "recycling bin" plastic not pre-consumer manufacturing waste or whatever.

          Note I'm aware that just because some recycling center got a price of $$$$ on 50 kilotons of sorted shredded plastic waste does not necessarily mean I'd get the same $/pound price on one ton. But the whole point is the ship had a bazzillion tons of the stuff leaking out so I'm sure they will recycle more than a couple pounds.

          If they don't like the local price, I suppose they could just shove nurdles into a shipping container and ship it to a recycling center in the USA and .... oh wait thats kinda how this disaster started. I suppose they'll want to locally process instead of causing another shipping accident?

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 06, @09:19PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 06, @09:19PM (#1142474)

      ftfy

    • (Score: 2) by deimtee on Monday June 07, @12:58AM (3 children)

      by deimtee (3272) on Monday June 07, @12:58AM (#1142562) Journal

      It's the rat-farm problem.
      If Sri Lankans beach-combers can make a profit selling 'reclaimed enviro-nurdle crafty things' to western hippies then the total plastic that will be 'recovered' and processed will far exceed what was originally dropped in the sea.

      --
      No problem is insoluble, but at Ksp = 2.943×10−25 Mercury Sulphide comes close.
      • (Score: 2) by Unixnut on Monday June 07, @07:39AM (2 children)

        by Unixnut (5779) on Monday June 07, @07:39AM (#1142675)

        Is that really the case? I mean, in this context, the main reason that scraping pellets turns a profit is because the pellets are free (except for the labour to scavenge them). If people could just buy plastic pellets and re-sell them on for the same profit, they would be doing it already.

        I mean sure, some people may start raiding garbage dumps in order to scavenge other plastic to reprocess and sell on, especially when the amount of pellets on the beaches goes down, but from my point of view, that is a win anyway (better to scavenge and recycle the plastic, wherever it is dumped).

        • (Score: 2) by deimtee on Monday June 07, @08:31AM

          by deimtee (3272) on Monday June 07, @08:31AM (#1142684) Journal

          I was replying to VLM saying they could turn a profit selling "reclaimed plastic crap" to hippies because of enviro-feelz. If so, pretty soon you'd have shipments of the stuff coming from China to Sri Lanka, to be on-sold to the hippies at Eco markups.
          Sure they'd clean out the dumps too, but the stuff on the beach is much higher quality.

          --
          No problem is insoluble, but at Ksp = 2.943×10−25 Mercury Sulphide comes close.
        • (Score: 1, Touché) by VLM on Monday June 07, @12:15PM

          by VLM (445) Subscriber Badge on Monday June 07, @12:15PM (#1142710)

          If people could just buy plastic pellets and re-sell them on for the same profit, they would be doing it already.

          Well, they do, just visit a walmart, especially the toy aisle ....

          I guess the point was it could be greenwashed at an even higher profit.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 07, @10:15AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 07, @10:15AM (#1142694)

      "Whatever poor people do in Sri Lanka" is often fishing and taking care of tourists, both of which are harmed by this shipwreck.

      No one will want the salvaged plastic, so anything that gets cleaned up will just become waste to be recycled or otherwise disposed of. Some of the other cargo on the ship might be salvageable, like the lead ingots, but that will go to salvage specialists, not beachcombers. Cleanup efforts usually aren't very helpful. Remember all those pictures of people wiping oil off of birds after the Valdez shipwreck, that was all pretty much useless, the birds died anyway, it might have even made things worse.

      I expect the effects will be short term, though, cleanup efforts or no. While the plastic won't biodegrade, it will mechanically degrade, and soon enough these little pellets will become invisibly small microplastic pollution.

      The Guardian article talks about "decades and decades" before things return to normal, but my guess is that everything will have returned to normal within a couple of years. There will still be some extra plastic in the environment, but it won't be visible and will end up being somebody's PhD thesis.

  • (Score: 2) by Revek on Sunday June 06, @05:51PM

    by Revek (5022) on Sunday June 06, @05:51PM (#1142414)

    Nitric acid will dilute quickly and have only a local effect on sea life. The fuel oil and the rest though is much worse.

    --
    This page was generated by a Swarm of Roaming Elephants
  • (Score: 2, Interesting) by fustakrakich on Sunday June 06, @08:24PM (4 children)

    by fustakrakich (6150) on Sunday June 06, @08:24PM (#1142459) Journal

    The article didn't indicate whether any action will be taken to make the owners clean up the mess. They just walk away and collect the insurance. Crime definitely does pay those at the top.

    --
    Ok, we paid the ransom. Do I get my dog back? REDЯUM
    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 06, @09:56PM (3 children)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 06, @09:56PM (#1142486)

      How is that any different to what we do on land? There's nothing special about polluting the open ocean.

      • (Score: 1) by fustakrakich on Sunday June 06, @10:30PM (2 children)

        by fustakrakich (6150) on Sunday June 06, @10:30PM (#1142492) Journal

        We need to take our pound of flesh out of these polluters. This one made the news, how many thousands don't?

        --
        Ok, we paid the ransom. Do I get my dog back? REDЯUM
        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 06, @11:13PM (1 child)

          by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 06, @11:13PM (#1142511)

          I agree. The top brass of the company should be told that if they don't get it all cleaned up their grandchildren start getting killed one by one or whatever it takes to get these people in check. Sick of these companies pushing all the costs onto defenseless animals and ultimately the people of the world.

          • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 06, @11:24PM

            by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 06, @11:24PM (#1142517)

            Bbb..but that's smart. Outsource rare earth mining to countries with no regulations and no worker protections. Win-motherfucking-win.

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 06, @09:54PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 06, @09:54PM (#1142485)

    next time they should make the ship out of nurdles ...?

  • (Score: 2) by DannyB on Monday June 07, @06:44PM

    by DannyB (5839) Subscriber Badge on Monday June 07, @06:44PM (#1142847) Journal

    If the chemicals wash up on the beaches, this will save the oceans and thus there will no longer be any problem.

    --
    I'm trying to find a face mask made of asbestos on eBay, but no luck.
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