Lanka to seek foreign expertise to assess damage | Sunday Observer
Burning vessel off the Western Coast

Lanka to seek foreign expertise to assess damage

30 May, 2021

Sri Lanka is expected to seek international expertise to assess the full extent of damage to the environment by the container ship X Press Pearl which is currently engulfed in a fire beyond salvation off the country’s Western coast. Environment Minister Mahinda Amaraweera said the President would appoint an expert committee comprising academics and officials representing the Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA), Central Environment Authority (CEA), the Coast Conservation Department (CCD) and other related agencies to study the damage before an environment pollution case is filed.

“We hope to seek expertise from foreigners also to assess the damage, which we believe is huge and the whole process might take over a month,” the Minister said adding that it is impossible to make out even a rough estimate at present. He said the containers on top have all been completely burnt and they believe there is no hope of salvation for the ship. MV X Press Pearl is a brand-new vessel which was commissioned this year. It was on its third voyage.

The vessel was carrying 1,486 containers including 56 loaded with hazardous chemicals such as Nitric Acid and Sodium Methoxide, when it caught fire due to a suspected chemical leak. The Singaporean flagged ship was at anchorage 9.5 nautical miles off the Colombo Port at the time.

The efforts by the Navy, Air Force and the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) to save the ship were futile due to strong winds and the flammable cargo on board.

The burned-out containers and debris were strewn on the shore from Uswetakeiyawa to Negombo on the Western coast by Thursday.

The coastal residents despite warnings to keep off from this potentially hazardous material were seen collecting food items and other goods washed ashore. The police had arrested eight residents who defied the pandemic lockdown to scavenge on the beach.

MEPA Chairman Dharshani Lahandupura said it would deploy 1,000 men with the help of the Tri Forces to clean the polluted shoreline.

Sri Lanka faced a similar situation in September last year when an oil tanker MT New Diamond caught fire off the Eastern coast while carrying 270,000 metric tonnes of crude oil.

The Shipping company based in Greece paid nearly Rs.450 million to the Government as costs to douse the fire. The Indian Navy and the Coast Guard joined the Sri Lanka Navy, Airforce and the coastguard to extinguish the fire on the oil tanker.

US$ 19 million has been demanded from the shipping company by the Government as an environment pollution claim and this is yet to be paid. The claim was forwarded by the Attorney General Dappula De Livera.

The MEPA also filed criminal charges against MT New Diamond’s captain claiming Rs.12 million in damages when it was revealed that he did not act responsibly when the fire at the engine room was first reported.

A panel of 18 experts was appointed to report on the MT New Diamond.

The Minister said the experts will assess the damage to the fish stocks, marine life and air pollution and in case oil from the ship seeps out, the damage that it would cause to the environment.