Aerial footage shows the X-Press Pearl breaking up and sinking off Sri Lanka's western coast

A chemical-laden cargo ship is sinking off the coast of Sri Lanka, sparking fears of an environmental disaster.

The Singapore-registered X-Press Pearl had been on fire for almost two weeks before the blaze was put out this week.

Hundreds of tonnes of oil from fuel tanks could leak into the sea if it sinks, devastating nearby marine life.

The Sri Lankan and Indian navies had worked jointly over the past days in an attempt to put out the fire and prevent the ship from breaking up and sinking.

But rough seas and monsoonal winds hampered the operation, just outside the port of Colombo.

“The ship is sinking. Salvers are trying to tow the ship to deep sea before it sinks to minimise the marine pollution but the rear area of the ship has drifted,” Sri Lanka Navy spokesman Captain Indika Silva told the BBC.

Environmentalist Dr Ajantha Perera told the BBC that the sinking posed “the worst environmental scenario”.

“With all the dangerous goods, the nitric acid and all these other things, and the oil in the ship, if it’s sinking it will basically destroy the whole bottom of the sea,” she said.

Dr Perera said divers should have been sent down to examine the ship before it was towed out to sea.

“The environmental issues will remain in our waters now,” she added.

The coastal stretch near the city of Negombo – home to some of the country’s most pristine beaches – has already seen oil and debris pollution for days.

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