Shipwreck removal could damage coral reef: Ajantha Perera

  • Environmentalist casts doubts on MEPA ahead of MV X-Press Pearl removal 

BY Dinitha Rathnayake 

The removal of the container ship MV X-Press Pearl, which is shipwrecked in Sri Lankan waters, is scheduled to begin early next month. Yet there is a risk that the removal process could cause major damage to the coral reef on which the half-sunk vessel rests at present, environmental scientist Dr. Ajantha Perera claimed. 

According to Dr. Perera, a coral reef would grow by only three centimetres (cm) per year. The MV X-Press Pearl’s hull is presently resting on the shallow ocean bed. 

“We don’t trust the Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA) at all. Fishermen in the area allege that there are no fish around this area and that plastic balls are found when they cast their fishing nets. This means that not only the coral reefs, but the total environment, is at risk.” 

However, the MEPA had earlier stated that it will carry out removal activities subject to the relevant terms and conditions.

Dr. Perera also said that the fishermen in the area urged the Government to obtain their help when removing the ship so that they can prevent damages to the said coral reef. According to her, fishermen also claim that the Government does not obtain their expert opinion at least to remove the container ship. 

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa has instructed the MEPA to calculate the damage caused to the environment, including the current damage, as well as the cost of rehabilitating the damaged environment. 

Meanwhile, the final report of the Urban Development and Housing Ministry on the environmental damage caused by the ship accident will be submitted before 30 November. The MEPA previously stated that it hopes to engage in a long-term investigation into said environmental damage. The calculation of the environmental damage has already commenced, said MEPA Chairperson Dharshani Lahandapura at the time. 

Speaking to The Morning, Lahandapura said that the ship company had informed on 15 October that a group out of two such entities would be selected to carry out the removal of wreckage next month. 

“We don’t know about the coral reef issue but we intend to send divers and search,” she added. 

Another piece of advice given by the Premier is to build a new Maritime Security Management Agency.

The Singapore-registered MV X-Press Pearl container ship carrying a hazardous chemical cargo caught fire on 20 May 2021 while at anchorage, 9.5 nautical miles off the Colombo Harbour, due to a chemical leak in a container and burned for 13 days before the fire was put out on 2 June. The ship, along with its hazardous cargo, sank afterwards. 
The removal of the wreckage was delayed as the authorities had to wait until the south west monsoon subsided and also due to the ongoing legal proceedings into the matter.