Focus on coastal cleaning continues

By Uwin Lugoda 

Despite almost three months having passed since the X-Press Pearl disaster, the wreckage continues to threaten Sri Lanka’s marine environment. Seeing this need for further action, Singapore donated eight coastal cleaning machines to the Sri Lankan Government. 

Speaking to The Sunday Morning, Urban Development Authority (UDA) Media Representative Prasad Manju stated that the donation was made on the request of both President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, in order to further expand the coastal cleaning activities taking place.

Manju estimated that the collective cost of the eight machines was $ 180,000. The donation was made to Sri Lanka by the “Alliance To End Plastic Waste” in Singapore, with both Minister of Foreign Affairs Dinesh Gunawardena and Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to Singapore Shashikala Premawardhana playing vital roles in the donation process. 

The MV X-Press Pearl unexpectedly caught on fire 9.5 nautical miles from the Colombo Harbour on 20 May, giving rise to one of Sri Lanka’s biggest environmental disasters. The cargo ship continued to burn for 12 days before finally sinking on 2 June. 

Several toxic substances were released into Sri Lankan waters as a result, along with 78 tonnes of plastic pellets that have spread around almost one-third of the coastline from Galle to Kalpitiya. Additionally, 25 tonnes of nitric acid and various chemical and cosmetic products have since covered the sea surface on the western coast of the country.

“Having seen the impact the shipwreck has had on our coast, we needed something like this to help us expedite our clean-up efforts. The Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA) has said that these machines will be used to remove plastic waste that has accumulated from the wreck, off the coast of Sri Lanka,” said Manju.

Starting in Negombo

He explained that these machines are used to separate very fine pieces of plastic that have got mixed in with the sand. 

These machines will be first used to clean up the Uswetakeiyawa Sarakkuwa beach in Negombo and will continue to be used on other beaches that have been damaged. State Minister for Coast Conservation and Lowland Development Mohan Priyadarshana de Silva stated that a committee of five, headed by Minister of Justice Ali Sabry PC, carried out investigations to identify the areas most impacted.

“The Government has requested that various institutions assist in keeping the coast clean. To do this, our Foreign Minister took the initiative to reach out to a Singapore-based NGO (non-government organisation) and received these eight machines. The machines were officially handed over to the MEPA on 3 August.”

Machines to increase efficiency

De Silva went on to state that these machines will speed up the process of beach cleaning work by making the process of separating fine plastics more efficient. 

Manju stated that a team of 41 experts is currently studying the damage and how it should be dealt with, covering 10 different areas. Moreover, he explained that the X-Press Pearl is being constantly monitored for oil leaks. 

To this end, he stated that equipment has been placed in tugboats near the wreckage, in preparation for any major oil leaks. 

“Twice a day we take pictures using drone technology, to see the condition of the oil slick, and the MEPA officials go to the site daily to take water samples and constantly monitor the ship’s oil slick. At present, it is a thin layer of oil that stretches for about one nautical mile and then evaporates. We do not see it reaching the coast.” 

Manju stated that these new machines and other aid from NGOs have greatly supported Sri Lanka`s clean-up efforts, with them helping to manage the damage done to the environment.