Sunken Ship Threatens Lasting Environmental Damage

Posted on 6/4/2021 by Roseanne Bottone

A cargo ship carrying 25 tons of nitric acid and other chemicals began to sink last week off the coast of Sri Lanka. A fire that started on May 20 burned for twelve days before it was extinguished on June 2.   

As of Friday, June 4, the vessel's stern (rear) was grounded on the seabed about 70 feet below the surface, and the ship's bow was slowly settling. The fire destroyed most of the 1,500 containers the ship was carrying. Eighty-one of them contained dangerous goods.

Why is Nitric Acid Hazmat?

Nitric acid (UN 2031) is a Class 8 corrosive hazardous material. Packing Group I and II nitric acid also carry a subsidiary hazard of Division 5.1 (oxidizer). A colorless liquid that is highly corrosive to most metals, nitric acid may cause fire when it contacts organic materials like wood, cotton, or straw. When it burns, it produces toxic gases.

When carried by vessel, nitric acid is subject to strict segregation requirements under the International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code (IMDG Code). The chemical must be stowed away from some other materials like Division 4.1 flammable solids and Division 5.1 oxidizers. Nitric acid must also be separated from Segregation Group 18 alkalis.  

Segregation requirements are indicated in column 16b of the IMDG Code Dangerous Goods List (IMDG Code 3.2).

A new edition of the IMDG Code (incorporating Amendment 40–20) comes into force on June 1, 2022 and is now in stock at

“Ecological Worst-case Scenario”

Observers fear the remaining dangerous goods aboard the vessel and the hundreds of tons of oil in its fuel tanks could be released into the sea and cause the country’s worst environmental disaster. So far, oil has not leaked but salvage experts are at the ready to monitor the situation in attempt to mitigate the potential for disastrous oil pollution.

The marine life is already in jeopardy. Oceanography experts estimate that up to 3 billion tiny plastic pellets called “nurdles” have already been released into the sea and are washing up on Sri Lanka beaches. The pellets are not biodegradable and will persist in the marine environment forever.

The Sri Lankan government has deployed soldiers to clean up affected beaches. They have suspended fishing along 50 miles of coastline where 5,600 fishing boats are located in some of the country’s richest fishing waters.

IMDG Hazmat Vessel Shipper Training: Live or Online

Expand on your 49 CFR expertise and learn the current international IMDG Code requirements you must know to safely offer fully-compliant hazardous materials shipments for vessel transportation. Build confidence to navigate and apply the IMDG Code to your shipments and prevent civil penalties now as high as $84,425 per day, per violation. 

Train at your own pace with the Hazmat Vessel Shipper Certification online course or join a Lion instructor for live, expert-led training on June 18 or July 1

Tags: hazardous materials, hazmat safety, hazmat vessel shipping, IMDG Code

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