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GoSL to try foreign jurisdiction if shipowners renege

a year ago

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  • Seeks full compensation for environmental harm
  • Finalisation by year-end or Jan. 2022
BY Pamodi Waravita Minister of Justice Ali Sabry said yesterday (11) that the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) may have to resort to invoking international jurisdiction if discussions with the owners of the MV X-Press Pearl ship fail to deliver the full compensation with regard to the environmental harm the country suffered as a result of the maritime disaster. Speaking in Parliament yesterday, the Minister said: “We have already received our first interim claim of Rs. 720 million. The second interim claim will also be given soon. These claims only account for our clean-up costs and economic losses due to the incident. We have already pressed criminal charges with regard to the damages caused to our marine environment. “We have been in consultations for about a month now with a highly respected Australian company who helped another country which faced such an environmental disaster. We hope to finalise the compensation related to our environment by the end of December or the first week of January 2022, following which we will hold discussions. If the discussions fail, we will have to go to court, either locally or internationally.” He added that the Government is “not planning on taking whatever they offer” and said that while some costs such as losses to the fisheries industry can be calculated easily, the calculation of the environmental cost is much more complicated. Minister of Ports and Shipping Rohitha Abeygunawardena, addressing the Parliament yesterday, said that from the Rs. 720 million initial interim claim that has already been received by the Government, Rs. 328 million has been distributed to affected fishermen in the Colombo, Kalutara, and Gampaha Districts of the Western Province. He further spoke about when the shipwreck will be moved from Sri Lankan waters. He said: “The Shipowners’ Protection and Indemnity Club will be removing the wreck in two steps with the aid of two foreign companies, selected through an international tender process. To remove the containers and waste on our seabed, the American Resolve Marine Company has been selected and they have already determined that 40 square kilometres (km²) of the seabed has been damaged due to this. “The Shanghai Salvage Company has been selected to remove the shipwreck from our waters, and this process will begin this month and will take about four months, factoring in weather and other environmental conditions. We will also take a certificate from them, requiring full responsibility from them, if further damage to our environment is caused during this process.” He added that the Ministry received cabinet approval in September to formulate a framework to prevent, co-ordinate, and intervene in marine disasters in Sri Lankan waters in the future. The MV X-Press Pearl ship caught fire on 20 May, approximately nine nautical miles away from the Colombo Harbour, after having anchored there a few hours prior to the fire. A subsequent explosion on 24 May led to the fire spreading and a number of containers aboard it falling into the sea, thus releasing pollutants including plastic pellets into the water. At the time of the incident, the ship was carrying 348 tonnes of fuel oil and 1,486 containers, of which 81 were carrying dangerous goods including 25 tonnes of nitric acid, caustic soda, and methanol. A total of 1,680 tonnes of the environmentally harmful plastic pellets had also been aboard. The United Nations (UN) Environmental Advisory Mission on the maritime disaster caused by the MV X-Press Pearl has stated that the increasing geographical extent of the plastic spill from the ship is the “largest on record”.

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