Sri Lanka has sought help from the United Nations (UN), as well as other countries, to assess the environmental damage caused by a fire on a container vessel that is sinking in the waters off Colombo.

The fire on the Singapore-flagged MV X-Press Pearl broke out on 20 May and lasted for 12 days.

It destroyed most of the cargo, which included chemicals, and polluted the ocean as well as nearby beaches, reported the Associated Press.

Sri Lankan State Minister of Urban Development and Coast Conservation Nalaka Godahewa said that the country is seeking help as the “expertise within the country isn’t sufficient to accurately calculate the damage.”

In response, the UN has decided to send three experts to the country, one of whom will evaluate the impact of the damage on the economy.

Last week, Sri Lanka said that it is looking for a provisional claim of around $40m from the owner of the vessel, X-Press Feeders, as compensation for fire-fighting expenses.

The vessel caught fire when it was berthed about 18km northwest of Colombo and waiting to enter the port.

According to the Sri Lankan Navy, the fire was caused due to the onboard chemical cargo, which included 25t of nitric acid.

The wreckage, which comprises plastic pellets and charred fibreglass, is polluting the water as well as the island’s beaches.

The authorities are concerned by the possibility of destruction to marine life due to the spillage of residual chemicals and oil.

MV X-Press Pearl started sinking after the fire was put out by authorities last week.

Efforts to tow the vessel into deeper waters were unsuccessful as its stern is resting on the seabed.

Currently, MV X-Press Pearl is partially submerged in the ocean at a depth of 21m.