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Clearing X-Press Pearl debris will begin in early November

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by Ifham Nizam

Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA) Chairperson Dharshani Lahandapura, Attorney-at-Law said that removal of debris of Singapore-registered MV X-Press Pearl that sank in Lankan waters is set to start early November.

She said: “The Coastal area from Mannar to Dondra is cleaned daily. We have spent around 30,000 man-hours in the cleaning operation. Around 400 workers have been deployed for this work that has been going on daily for some time now. This process has to be continued for at least one more year.”

She said that special attention has been paid to clean the coastal areas in Negombo, Sarakkauwa, Mount Lavinia and Angulana.

The vessel was carrying 1,486 containers, including 25 tonnes of nitric acid, along with other chemicals and cosmetics that were loaded at the port of Hazira, India, on May 15. It caught fire off Colombo Port on May 27. After burning for 12 days, the vessel sank on June 2 as it was being towed to deeper waters.

Lahandapura said this was one of the worst-ever marine disasters the country had to ever face. Calling it a ‘man-made disaster’, she said: “This is an unfortunate incident for Sri Lanka. It has negatively impacted the country in many ways. What we are doing right now is minimizing that negative impact.”

The environmental damage inflicted by the disaster has been divided to two categories: visible and invisible, she said.

The Prime Minister’s office has instructed MEPA to expedite its process of estimating the damage caused and the cost of recovery.

“The ship is now a huge pile of debris. It took five months for that to happen. What’s left now has dwindling power of damaging the environment. Tests are still being conducted to identify any further damage.”

What remains to be done has five components: observing the status quo of the wreckage, cleaning the beach and sea bottom at the disaster site, investigating the possibility of any accidental occurrence, collecting data on damage caused to the marine and coastal environment and surveying the changes occurring on the seabed, she said.

Plastic remnants are being cleared not only from the beach surface, but going down one meter as some plastic pellets have been found buried quite deep in the sand.

A team of 40 field experts and scientists, co-chaired by Prof Ajith de Alwis, Dean of Faculty of Graduate Studies of the Moratuwa University and Prof Prshanthi Gunawardena of the Department of Forestry and Environmental Science, University of Sri Jayewardenepura has been assigned the task of estimating the environmental damage.

Assistance has been rendered by 14 government agencies including the Department of the Government Analyst, Central Environment Authority and Wildlife Conservation Department. In addition laboratory assistance has been obtained from foreign countries including the UK, Australia and France.

Lahandapura said scanning the ocean bed has nearly been completed to assess the damage. Our plan was to commence debris removal at the end of this month and we’re still trying to keep to that deadline. Otherwise the project will begin in the first week of November,” she said,

The final report on damage assessment is expected to be submitted by Nov 30.



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Vasu defends constituents’ right to differ

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Prez chairs govt. group meeting:

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Water Supply Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara has strongly defended the right of the SLPP (Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna) constituents’ to take up contentious issues in public.

Minister Nanayakkara told SLPP parliamentary group meeting at the President’s House on Sunday night (24) that their right to differ on matters of public interest shouldn’t be questioned.

Nanayakkara said so when Minister Rohitha Abeygunawardena and MP Tissa Kuttiarachchi faulted some constituent parties for dissenting views on certain issues.

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa was present at the meeting chaired by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. The meeting lasted for about two hours.

The SLPP held Sunday’s meet in the wake of some constituent parties of the ruling coalition asking for a discussion on the questionable agreement between the government and the US New Fortress Energy Company over the Yugadanavi power plant, etc. Sources said that initially, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa indicated that the issue could be discussed with the Premier but subsequently arrangements were made for the Sunday’s meeting.

The New Fortress recently announced that a definitive agreement had been executed for the external investment in West Coast Power Limited (WCP).

WCP owns the 310 megawatts Yugadanavi Power Plant based in Colombo. The deal is also for the rights to develop a new LNG Terminal off the coast of Colombo. In terms of the agreement, New Fortress will acquire a 40 per cent ownership stake in WCP. The US energy firm plans to build an offshore LNG terminal located off the coast of Colombo.

Minister Nanayakkara has said it is not unusual for members of a coalition to hold different views depending on the issues as they also represent the interests of the public.

Nanayakkara has pointed out how the left parties remained with the UPFA though they didn’t agree with the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s decision to enact the 18th Amendment to the Constitution. Parliament passed the 18th Amendment to the Constitution with a two-thirds majority on 08 Sept. 2010, enabling the President to seek a third term among other things.

The SLPP constituents have differed with the government on several issues such as fuel price increases announced by Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila on 12 June as well as the abortive bid to transfer 49 percent of shares of the East Container Terminal (ECT) of the Colombo port to India and Japan.

National Freedom Front (NFF) leader Wimal Weerawansa spearheaded the constituents’ campaign. He sought an explanation particularly as regards Cabinet approval for the controversial energy deal with the US firm, without a discussion among ministers.

NFF sources told The Island that their leader felt the urgent need to take up the matter to prevent further deterioration of relations among the coalition members.

Several parties including government ally the Jathika Sanvidhana Ekamuthuwa moved the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal, respectively against the secretive energy deal with the US firm.

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‘Those who hesitate to get vaccinated pose a threat to others’

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

Deputy Director General of Health Services, Dr. Hemantha Herath said yesterday a significant number of people had not received the Covid-19 vaccine, and posed a threat to society.

“No matter what your age category is, you will be at a higher risk of being infected and spreading it to others. So please get vaccinated,” he urged.

The DDGHS said that a booster shot would be given to people from 01 Nov.

The Health Ministry would carry out the ongoing vaccination drive until everyone got the first two doses, he said.

“However, we won’t keep hundreds of vaccination centres open. Most likely, those who have not got vaccinated will have to go to designated locations to receive the vaccine.”

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School attendance high as parents have faith in teachers – CTU head

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Teachers and principals protested at Colombo Fort yesterday urging the government to rectify their salary anomalies. The protesters marched from the Fort Railway Station towards the Presidential Secretariat but police did not permit them to proceed beyond the Telecom rounadbout. Pic by Nishan S Priyantha

By Rathindra Kuruwita

School attendance was high Despite inter-provincial travel restrictions, Ceylon Teachers Union (CTU) General Secretary, Joseph Stalin said yesterday. “The government announced on 22 October that primary sections of all schools would be reopened on 25 October. Despite the short notice the attendance was high, and this is testament to the faith parents have in teachers,” he said.Primary sections of 9,155 schools recommenced yesterday.

“However, we will only teach. Teachers do a lot of additional work instead of teaching and most people who slander us have no idea about this,” he said.

Deputy Director General of Health Services, Dr. Hemantha Herath urged relevant authorities to provide safe and adequate transport facilities to students. It was vital that those vehicles were ventilated, and social distancing was maintained.

“We urge parents to buy reusable face masks for kids. If your child has any symptoms of COVID such as fever and cold, don’t send him/her to school until you are certain this is not COVID. Teach your child the importance of washing hands, wearing masks and maintaining social distancing. This is the way we can ensure there is no spread in the school system,” Dr. Herath said.

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