News

Compensation for 28 fisheries sectors 

  • New committee to assess damages, rebuilding efforts  

By Pamodi Waravita 

 

The Government hopes to compensate workers in 28 job sectors related to the fishing industry who were affected by the MV X-Press Pearl ship disaster which occurred in Sri Lankan waters, after determining the workers’ eligibility for compensation. 

Ornamental Fish, Inland Fish and Prawn Farming, Fishery Harbour Development, Multi Day Fishing Activities and Fish Exports State Minister Kanchana Wijesekera told The Morning yesterday (9) that a form will be handed out to those who engaged in these sectors and were affected by the disaster, to determine their eligibility for compensation. 

Meanwhile, a committee has been set up for the assessment of the damage from the disaster and the course of action needed to be taken to rebuild the marine environment, its resources and the fisheries industry. The committee comprises officials and scientists from the Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, the National Aquatic Resources Research and Development Authority (NARA), the National Aquaculture Development Authority (NAQDA), marine biologist Dr. Asha de Vos and other experts. 

Speaking to The Morning, Samagi Jana Balawegeya (SJB) Opposition Parliamentarian Dr. Kavinda Heshan Jayawardhana said that the SJB has lodged a complaint with the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) regarding the disaster and its effect on various industries, especially the fisheries industry. 

“The fisheries industry workers were especially affected as they cannot engage in their livelihoods or support their families. Small boat owners, madhal himiyo (fishermen who operate close to the shore and fish with nets), fisherwomen who stitch nets, fishermen operating in the Negombo Lagoon, those who trade in crabs and other shellfish, and many others involved in the industry such as transporters of fish, need justice due to this disaster,” stressed Jayawardhana. 

Meanwhile, the National Fisheries Solidarity Movement (NAFSO) Convenor Herman Kumara raised concerns to The Morning earlier this week about whether the compensation received by the country would trickle down to the fishermen who had been directly affected by the disaster. 

“We feel that the Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources would just calculate the impact based on the number of fishermen who are already registered with them, which would completely disregard many others who make their livelihoods on the coast, such as fisherwomen,” noted Kumara. Kumara also said that the registered number of fishermen in the Negombo division is approximately 6,000. 

Kumara further alleged that according to reports they have received, the Rs. 5000 which was promised to affected fishermen by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa has still not been received. 

Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) led Jathika Jana Balawegaya (National People’s Power) Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake called for an independent investigation into the disaster, citing the massive damage to the country and the suspicions surrounding the acid leak in one of the containers aboard the ship prior to its entry into Sri Lankan waters. 

United National Party (UNP) Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe has also urged the Government to appoint a Parliamentary Select Committee to inquire into the disaster. 

The MV X-Press Pearl ship, which arrived from India, caught fire on 20 May. A subsequent explosion led to the fire spreading and a number of containers aboard it falling into the sea, releasing pollutants including plastic pellets into the water. Since then, debris and deceased marine life have washed up on the country’s Western coastline. While the fire was later extinguished, part of the ship has since sunk in the wake of a short-lived attempt to tow the vessel into the deep seas. 

The Navy is presently providing protection to the ship. The authorities have also prohibited fishing in a zone declared a no-fishing zone, thus rendering many fishermen along the coast sans livelihoods. The relevant Court has banned the ship’s top brass from leaving the country. It was also informed that an electronic mail exchange between the ship’s Captain and the local agent company, with the former informing the latter at the time of the fire of an acid leak in a container aboard the ship, had been deleted by the latter who had a day prior to the fire informed the Sri Lankan authorities of the ship being safe to enter Sri Lankan waters.  

The State and Governmental authorities are presently involved in beach cleanups, collecting evidence, and preparing claims to seek compensation for the various damages incurred by the country owing to this disaster. In this regard, a Fundamental Rights petition has also been filed before the Supreme Court by an environmental group and fisherfolk.