X-Press Feeders, operators of the container ship MV X-Press Pearl, said experts were able to board the ship and connect a tow line, but “efforts to move the ship to deeper water have failed.”
“The aft part of the ship now bottoms out at a depth of 21 meters (70 feet),” while the fore area remains afloat with smoke coming from two cargo holds, the company said in a statement.
Navy spokeswoman Indika de Silva said the ship could cause serious pollution if it sinks at its current location off Colombo port.
The fire broke out on May 20 when the ship was anchored about 9.5 nautical miles (18 kilometers) northwest of Colombo and waiting to enter port.
The navy believes the fire was caused by chemicals that were being transported on the Singapore-flagged ship. It was carrying 1,486 containers, including 25 tons of nitric acid and other chemicals that were loaded at the port of Hazira, India, on May 15.
The fire has destroyed most of the ship’s cargo. Some containers fell into the sea, polluting the surrounding waters and a long stretch of the island’s famous beaches.
There are fears that hundreds of tons of oil from the ship’s fuel tanks could also leak into the sea if it sinks, devastating nearby marine life.
Environmentalist Ajantha Perera said the incident could cause “a terrible environmental disaster.”
He said the ship is believed to be carrying 81 containers of dangerous goods and about 400 containers containing oil.
“All of these would mix with seawater and destroy the marine environment and have an adverse impact on the fishing industry,” he said.
As a precautionary measure, the authorities reimposed a fishing ban along some 80 kilometers (50 miles) of coastline.
Charitha Pattiaratchi, a professor of oceanography at the University of Western Australia, said the ship was carrying 78 tons of plastic pallets called nurdles, a raw material used to make plastic bags.
Writing on his Facebook page, he said the incident had released “potentially about 3 billion nurdles” into the ocean that are washing up on the beaches.
He said nurdles “will persist in the marine environment forever as they are not biodegradable.”
Sri Lankan police are investigating the fire and a Colombo court on Tuesday barred the captain, engineer and assistant engineer from leaving the country. The government has said it will take legal action against the ship’s owners to claim compensation.
The ship’s 25-member crew was evacuated last week after an explosion. They include Filipino, Chinese, Indian and Russian citizens.