Prez urged to stop ship’s oil leak

  •  Environmentalists in letter urge immediate removal of wreck


  • Alleges authorities too busy calculating claim


BY Pamodi Waravita

A total of 11 environmentalists have appealed to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to immediately intervene and stop the alleged ongoing oil pollution caused by the MV X-Press Pearl shipwreck and to immediately remove the toxic wreck and the chemicals in it from Sri Lankan waters.

“For the last 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. The Sri Lanka Coast Guard and the Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA), 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,” the letter to the President has stated.

The letter was signed by Ven. Pahiyangala Ananda Sagara Thera of Protect Sri Lanka; Ravindranath Dabare, Hemantha Withanage, and Dilena Pathragoda of the Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ); Yohan Weerasuriya of the Federation of Environmental Organisations; Thilak Kariyawasam of the Sri Lanka Nature Group; Herman Kumara of the National Fisheries Solidarity Organisation; Vincent Bulathsinhala of the Janawabodha Kendhraya in Negombo; Chinthaka Rajapaksha and Sajeewa Chamikara of the Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform (MONLAR); and Jehan Canagaretna of the Wildlife and Nature Protection Society (WNPS).

The letter has further noted that since the wreck is located in the same area as gas and oil terminals, it is important to remove the “toxic wreck and its harmful chemicals” as soon as possible.
“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,” alleged the environmentalists.

The environmentalists have further claimed that the insurers do not have the best interests of Sri Lanka at heart, and that hence, a local team of experts must be appointed to look into the alleged oil spill and the removal of the wreckage.

“We hope that you can access all the relevant videos, photographs, and daily reports which are in the hands of the insurer, the caretaker company, and the oil response team in order 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.”

MEPA Chairperson Dharshani Lahandapura has claimed on multiple occasions to both The Morning and The Sunday Morning that investigations into the alleged oil spill are underway. However, attempts to contact both Lahandapura and Urban Development, Waste Disposal, and Community Cleanliness State Minister Dr. Nalaka Godahewa yesterday (29) on the findings and progress of these investigations, proved futile.

The Morning reported earlier this week that the Protection and Indemnity Insurance (P&I) Club of the MV X-Press Pearl has requested further proof of the damages that occurred as a result of the fire onboard the said vessel in order to pay the remaining amount of the initial interim claim. The insurers have so far only agreed to pay approximately $ 3.6 million of the initial interim claim of $ 40 million, covering the costs incurred in the period from 23 May to 3 June.

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. Reportedly, the ship had carried in its cargo about 25 tonnes of nitric acid, 300 metric tonnes (MT) of bunker oil, and 78 MT of plastic pellets or nurdles. Environmentalists have speculated that the plastic pellets could plague the country’s marine environment, including its beaches, for years to come.