A U.N. official on Saturday said the sinking of a ship carrying chemicals off the coast of Sri Lanka caused “significant damage to the planet” by introducing hazardous substances into the environment.
Hanaa Singer-Hamdy, U.N. resident coordinator in Sri Lanka, in a statement said the U.N. was coordinating with the small island country to assess the damage, lead recovery efforts and look into how to prevent such a disaster in the future, The Associated Press reports.
“An environmental emergency of this nature causes significant damage to the planet by the release of hazardous substances into the ecosystem,” Singer-Hamdy said. “This in turn threatens lives and livelihoods of the population in the coastal areas.”
In early June, the MV X-Press Pearl sank after catching fire. The vessel had been carrying chemicals including nitric acid as well as 350 metric tons of oil.
Though the chemicals on board were destroyed in the fire, debris such as burning fiberglass and plastic pellets have already begun polluting nearby beaches. The AP notes that the Sri Lankan government has made a claim for $40 million to X-Press Feeders, a container shipping group, to cover the cost of fighting the fire that caused the ship to sink.
A U.N. team of oil spill and chemical experts provided by the European Union has been dispatched to Sri Lanka, the AP noted. Of the nearly 1,500 containers that the ship was carrying, 81 were described as “dangerous” goods.