Sri Lankan security personnel remove snow-like debris and plastic from the X-Press Pearl ship, which washed up on a beach at Pamunugama in Negombo, Sri Lanka.
  • The fallout from a container ship fire has blanketed Sri Lanka's beaches in plastic "snow."
  • Waves of plastic pellets and debris from the blaze washed up on the country's beaches.
  • Environmentalists say this may have far-reaching effects on the environment and wildlife in the region.
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Sri Lanka's beaches are blanketed in a layer of plastic "snow" after waves of debris and plastic pellets washed up on its shores.

The potentially toxic debris came from a massive blaze on board the MV X-Press Pearl container ship which burst into flames off the coast of Sri Lanka on May 18. It took a team of firefighters from the Sri Lankan navy and Indian Coast Guard 13 days to extinguish the inferno.

The 25 crew members on board the Singapore-flagged cargo ship were evacuated safely, but the marine disaster is far from over. The local government must now deal with debris from the blaze, and millions of tiny plastic pellets called nurdles that have covered its western coastline.

According to environmental news outlet Mongabay, the tiny granules likely came from the 78 tons of plastic pellets that the X-Press Pearl was carrying.

"Some of the 25 kilogram bags from the containers fell overboard, and the beads have now carpeted beaches all the way down to the south coast of Sri Lanka," Darshani Lahandapura, chair of Sri Lanka's Marine Environment Protection Authority told Mongabay.

The Washington Post spoke to Sri Lankan marine biologist Asha de Vos, who called the layer of plastic an "environmental disaster." She added that the granules could have far-reaching consequences for the wildlife and ecosystems in the region, because currents may sweep the pellets and debris even further out.

De Vos also theorized that the plastic grains, when mixed into the sand could even raise the temperature of the beaches where sea turtles come ashore to lay their eggs, and compromise the reproductive process of these endangered animals.

Channel News Asia reported that the Sri Lankan government intends to bill the ship's owners - Singapore-headquartered shipping carrier X-Press Feeders - $17 million to clean up not only the layer of plastic on the country's beaches but also the oil spill that the ship fire left in its wake.

X-Press Feeders indicates on its website that the vessel is covered under protection and indemnity insurance, as well as hull and machinery insurance. A spokesman for X-Press Feeders told Insider that any claims around this incident will be assessed by its insurers.

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