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Sri Lanka fishing and tourism sectors drown in new crisis

Plastic pellet and chemical spill fuels fear of seafood and hinders exports

A member of Sri Lanka's military tries to clear Sarakkuwa Beach, north of Colombo, of pellets from a plastic and chemical spill that has delivered another blow to the country's pandemic-ravaged economy. (Photo by Ishara S. Kodikara)

COLOMBO -- Sri Lanka's west coast fishermen and women, who have been battered by the pandemic and lockdowns for more than a year now, can no longer look forward to the bountiful catches that the annual rainy season promises. Their customers, said Aruna Roshantha, president of the All Ceylon Fisher Folk Trade Union, are too scared to eat seafood.

The fear stems from a catastrophe that began to unfold on May 20, when a ship laden with 1,486 containers and 25 tons of nitric acid caught fire some 18 km northwest of Colombo. The Singapore-registered MV X-Press Pearl was also carrying other hazardous chemicals and materials, including nurdles, preproduction pellets used to make plastic products.

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