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Sri Lankan court grants bail to captain of fire-ravaged ship

A Sri Lankan court granted bail to the captain of a fire-ravaged container ship on Monday, hours after he was arrested by police, officials said.

Police spokesman Ajith Rohana said investigators arrested the captain of the MV X-Press Pearl, which is sinking off the country's capital and causing severe environmental pollution.

Rohana said the captain was charged under the Marine Pollution Prevention Act, which prohibits the dumping of oil, harmful substances and other pollutants in the ocean and coastal areas.

Russian Captain Tyutkalo Vitaly of fire damaged container ship MV X-Press Pearl waits in a court before the hearing begins in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Monday, June 14, 2021. (AP PhotoEranga Jayawardena)

Russian captain Tyutkalo Vitaly appeared before the magistrate on Monday and later was released on bail. The court banned him from leaving the country. The case will be heard again on July 1.

The fire broke out when the ship was anchored about 9.5 nautical miles (18 kilometers) northwest of the capital and waiting to enter the country’s main port. It burned for 12 days.

The Sri Lankan navy believes the blaze was caused by the vessel’s cargo, which included 25 tons of nitric acid and other chemicals, most of which was destroyed in the fire.

Sri Lankan navy soldiers walk on the beach looking for plastic debris washed ashore from fire damaged container ship MV X-Press Pearl at Kapungoda, on the outskirts of Colombo, Sri Lanka. Monday, June 14, 2021. (AP PhotoEranga Jayawardena)

Authorities extinguished the fire last week, but the ship then began sinking and attempts to tow it into deeper waters failed when the vessel’s stern sank to the seabed.

The ship remains partly submerged in waters about 21 meters (70 feet) deep.

On Saturday, the government said it is seeking an interim claim of $40 million from the ship’s operator to cover part of the cost of fighting the fire. Officials are still assessing the total damages.

Sri Lankan navy soldiers carry sacks full of plastic debris washed ashore from fire damaged container ship MV X-Press Pearl at Kapungoda, on the outskirts of Colombo, Sri Lanka. Monday, June 14, 2021. (AP PhotoEranga Jayawardena)

Sri Lankan navy soldiers clean the plastic debris washed ashore from fire damaged container ship MV X-Press Pearl at Kapungoda, on the outskirts of Colombo, Sri Lanka. Monday, June 14, 2021. (AP PhotoEranga Jayawardena)