Appeal to expedite pollution mitigation measures | Page 2 | Sunday Observer
Oil leak from MV X-press Pearl shipwreck

Appeal to expedite pollution mitigation measures

1 August, 2021
MV X-press Pearl
MV X-press Pearl

In an open letter to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, a group of civil society organisations and environmentalists have called on him to intervene to stop long-term environmental damage to coastal habitats, especially to coral reefs and the fish population by oil leaking from the ship MV X-press Pearl.

“Instead of the Government depending on the insurer, there should be a local team of experts appointed to lead in this matter,” the letter stated.

Experts of the letter:

“Civil society organisations and people interested in environmental conservation in Sri Lanka, wish to express our serious concerns to you with regard to the sluggish action of Government agencies in dealing with the X-press Pearl Shipwreck. This disaster happened over two months ago and, since then, we have been monitoring developments and are anxiously awaiting appropriate measures to be taken to end the environmental pollution continuing to be caused by it. 

“However, all we see are the lethargic responses of the relevant Government agencies in taking any meaningful action. For the past one-and-a-half months, we have received information that the oil leak had spread to Negombo, and then dissipated after a few kilometres.

“We have learned that this oil comes from the air vent connected to the oil tank which is located not far from the deck. Although Resolve Marine, the ITOPF (the Emergency Response Team), Oil Spill Response Ltd. (OSRL) and the McLarens Group understand the seriousness of this oil leak, they have not taken any steps to stop it.

“The Sri Lanka Coast Guard and the Marine Environment Protection Authority (MPPA), despite being aware of this, have also been unable to resolve the matter so far. “According to our information, this oil leak can be prevented by merely placing a cap on the vent. The precise location of this vent could be pinpointed by placing an unmanned underwater vehicle, a simple underwater camera, or just by asking the shipping company for a plan of the ship.

“We are particularly alarmed as this oil leak can create long-term environmental damage to coastal habitats, especially to the coral reefs and the fish population.

“As you are aware, the ship contained 81 containers of hazardous materials, and many others contain chemical products including lubricant oil, gear oil, brake fluid, lithium-ion batteries, and a number of other hazardous substances.

“We have even learned that some of these containers have heavy metals such as lead and copper in them, which have the potential to critically contaminate ocean life.

“We see, however, that the responsible Government agencies are more interested in calculating the potential value of the claim when, at this stage, salvaging the wreck should be the most important action.

“We also agree that compensation to fishermen, and to others whose livelihoods have been affected by this accident, should be considered as a high priority.

“We do not believe that the insurer, who seems to control every aspect of this operation, has the best interests of Sri Lanka at heart.

“Therefore, in the national interest, instead of the Government depending on the insurer, there should be a local team of experts appointed to lead this matter. The location of the wreck is of prime importance as the gas terminal and oil terminal are in the same area.

“Therefore, it is important to remove this toxic wreck, and its chemical containers, as soon as possible. We strongly believe that Your Excellency’s intervention is vital at this stage.

“We hope you can access all the videos, photographs and daily reports which are in the hands of the Insurer, caretaker company, and oil response team to understand, for yourself, the gravity of what has happened, and of the greater catastrophe that could happen, if this wreck is not made safe soon.”