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The Singapore-registered container ship MV X-Press Pearl sinking after burning for almost two weeks just outside Colombo's harbor on June 2. Photo: Ishara Kodikara/AFP via Getty Images

The sinking of a burning cargo ship carrying harmful chemicals and plastics off the coast of Sri Lanka has caused "significant damage to the planet" through the release of hazardous substances into the ecosystem, the UN said Saturday.

Driving the news: The ship, the X-Press Pearl, caught fire on May 20 and burned for almost a month before finally sinking on Thursday, AP reports.

  • Billions of plastic pellets washed up on the Sri Lankan coastline in the weeks that followed.
  • Sri Lanka's Marine Environment Protection Authority said on June 12 that over 1,000 tons of debris has been collected from beach cleanup operations stretching across 200 kilometers of coastline.
  • Experts had feared an oil spill from the 300 tons of bunker oil fueling the ship, but so far there has been no signs of a spill, per AP.

The big picture: A U.N. team of oil spill and chemical experts sent from the European Union will be working with the Sri Lankan government to assess the impact of the environmental disaster, per the press release.

  • Sri Lanka has also submitted an "interim claim of $40 million to X-Press Feeders to cover part of the cost of fighting the fire," per AP.

What they're saying: "The UN is coordinating international efforts and mobilizing partners to support Sri Lanka in addressing the disaster of the MV X-press Pearl, based on a request by the Government," said UN Resident Coordinator in Sri Lanka Hanaa Singer-Hamdy.

  • "An environmental emergency of this nature causes significant damage to the planet by the release of hazardous substances into the ecosystem, this in turn threatens lives and livelihoods of the population in the coastal areas," she added.

Go deeper

Sep 5, 2021 - World

New Zealand to criminalize terror attack planning after mall stabbing

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern during a Saturday press conference in Parliament in Wellington, New Zealand. Photo: Mark Mitchell — Pool/Getty Images

New Zealand officials tried "for years" to deport the terrorist who stabbed shoppers in an Auckland supermarket Friday before being fatally shot by police who were surveilling him, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said.

Driving the news: Ardern vowed Saturday to tighten NZ's security laws by the month's end following the attack by the "ISIS-inspired" Ahamed Aathil Mohamed Samsudeen, 32 — who was fighting to stay in NZ as a refugee when he injured seven shoppers, three critically.

Rahm Emanuel questioned on murder of Laquan McDonald in confirmation hearing

Rahm Emanuel during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing on Oct. 20. Photo: Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel spoke about the murder of Laquan McDonald during his Senate confirmation hearing Wednesday to become the U.S. ambassador to Japan, saying that "there's not a day or a week that has gone by in the last seven years I haven't thought about this."

Catch up quick: McDonald was a Black teenager who was fatally shot 16 times by Chicago police during Emanuel's tenure as the city's mayor. The 2014 shooting triggered massive protests, both because of its nature and the fact that the officers' body-cam footage was concealed for years.

3 hours ago - World

Biden's ambassador nominee: "China is not an Olympian power"

Nick Burns testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Photo: Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg via Getty Images

President Biden's nominee to serve as ambassador to China delivered a stark assessment of the challenges the U.S. faces in confronting Beijing, but stressed that the rising superpower is "not all-powerful" and the West retains "substantial" advantages.

The big picture: Nicholas Burns, a retired career diplomat and former U.S. ambassador to NATO, used his confirmation hearing Wednesday to echo the growing bipartisan consensus that China poses "the greatest threat to the security of our country and the democratic world" in the 21st century.