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Environmental Investigation Agency, UK and CEJ, Sri Lanka jointly lobby IMO over its inaction after  X-Press Pearl disaster

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By Ifham Nizam

Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), UK in partnership with the Centre for Environmental Justice – CEJ, Sri Lanka backs the Sri Lankan outline of a myriad of ways the International Maritime Organization (IMO) is failing to look after the environment by putting the interests of the shipping industry first.

The Marine Environmental Protection Authority (MEPA) and environmental NGOs yesterday demanded that IMO provide a new classification of hazardous substances after devastating X-Press Pearl plastic pellet spill nine miles off the Sri Lankan coast. On 25th May 2021 the Singapore-flagged cargo ship X-Press Pearl spilled 1,680 tonnes of plastic pellets, 9,700 tonnes of other plastics and toxic pollutants. With plastic accumulating on beaches up to a height of two metres, it marked the worst marine environmental disaster in the country’s history, and the single largest plastic pellet pollution event the world has ever seen.

The event follows similar incidents in Hong Kong (2012), South Africa (2017 and 2020) and in the North Sea (2019, 2020).

EIA, on behalf of the NGOs in the Clean Shipping Coalition, will be putting pressure on the International Maritime Organization (IMO) at their November meeting, demanding more than the few minutes allotted to acknowledge the gravity of the X-Press Pearl disaster, debate the classification of plastic pellets and outlining the lack of action taken to date on plastics.

 Christina Dixon, Deputy Ocean Campaign Leader of the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) yesterday said:

“Although plastics from sea-based sources account for roughly 20% of plastic pollution, the pace of action to prevent plastic pollution from ships at the international level is sorely lacking.

“The recent tragedy of the X-Press Pearl in Sri Lanka is a devastating example of the impact of a lack of oversight and preventative measures. With fishing communities and marine habitats now devastated by billions of plastic pellets polluting their environment, it is the local communities left bearing the brunt of the clean-up and harm.”

IMO recognizes plastic waste in our ocean as their responsibility but is failing to live by their words. Despite the need for urgent action to protect marine ecosystems, livelihoods and coastlines the issue is slipping through the net.

“We expect to be given just a couple of minutes at the meeting to cover what has been the worst plastic pellet spill in history. The IMO principally looks after the interests of the shipping industry, but it cannot continue to do so without protecting our marine environment in parallel. It is of paramount importance they move immediately to reclassify plastic pellets as a hazardous substance on the request of Sri Lanka; a country who through zero fault of their own, will be struggling in the wake of this disaster for years to come.”

Executive Director of the Centre for Environmental Justice Hemantha Withanage said:  “Immediately after the X-Press Pearl ship accident, more than 20,000 fishermen were disallowed from fishing in the area and have lost access to their livelihood up to now. Many fish and other marine animals including 417 turtles, 46 Dolphins and 8 whales were found dead. Some of them had mistakenly eaten micro plastics as food. Most of these plastic nurdles will remain in the ocean environment for the next 500 years or more. Ship owners and the insurance company P&I club must take full responsibility for the damage caused. Furthermore, it’s time to regulate unsafe transportation of large quantities of plastic nurdles.”



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Wimal asks for PSC probe into top officials’ complicity in violence

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Colombo HC lawyers concerned over shocking developments

By Shamindra Ferdinando

National Freedom Front (NFF) leader Wimal Weerawansa, MP, says a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) should be appointed to investigate the role played by IGP C.D. Wickremaratne and Public Security Ministry Secretary Maj. Gen. (retd.) Jagath Alwis in the recent SLPP hothead attack on those demanding the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the Cabinet of Ministers, including Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Weerawansa yesterday (18) told The Island that Parliament should inquire into the unprovoked attack that triggered an extremely violent response by the public as well as those awaiting an opportunity to unleash violence on selected group of lawmakers on 09 May.

The former Industries Minister said he was confident that Attorney General Sanjay Rajaratnam, PC, would look into the issues at hand.

Responding to another query, Weerawansa said that Senior DIG Colombo Deshabandu Tennakoon’s claim that the IGP and the Public Security Ministry Secretary had interfered with his (Tennakoon’s) plan to disperse the SLPP mobs couldn’t be easily dismissed.

MP Weerawansa declared, in Parliament on Tuesday (17), that the IGP and the Public Security Ministry dissuaded the Senior DIG from performing his duties although he had received specific instructions from President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to stop the march on Galle Face. The former JVPer questioned whether those conspirators wanted to show the world the failure on the part of the police and the armed forces to maintain law and order.

Asked whether police headquarters and the Public Security Ministry had responded to his accusations, Weerawansa said he hadn’t been contacted by them so far.

Pointing out that the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL), inquiring into 09 May turmoil had recorded Senior DIG’s statement, Weerawansa said that the outfit could issue an interim statement on the matter.

The Colombo High Court Lawyers’ Association said that the shocking revelation, made in Parliament, should be expeditiously inquired into.

The Association’s President Attorney-at-Law Lakshman Perera said that the ongoing investigations had taken an unexpected turn in the wake of high profile specific allegations pertaining to the conduct of the IGP, as well as the Public Security Ministry Secretary. Pointing out that the HRCSL and the CID had already recorded DIG Tennakoon’s statement, pertaining to the incidents, and the officer was among a group of 22 persons slapped with a travel ban by the Fort Magistrate, lawyer Perera said that the CID couldn’t turn a blind eye to accusations directed at the head of the department as well as Secretary to the relevant ministry.

Lawyer Perera said that investigations couldn’t be completed without verifying accusations made in Parliament.

Lawmaker Weerawansa said that the question was on whose behalf the IGP and the Public Security Ministry Secretary intervened at a time the country was under emergency and after the Senior DIG in charge of Colombo received specific instructions from the President himself.

Although the SLPP goons did not shed any blood or cause any serious injuries, unlike the well-organized mobs that caused havoc across the country thereafter, MP Weerawansa said that he couldn’t comprehend why the police and the armed forces allowed the situation to develop to an extremely dangerous level.

The HRCSL in its initial reaction to the unprovoked attacks on those who had been demanding the resignation of the government condemned the violence caused by a group of people who made it very clear that violence was their intention.

HRCSL Chairperson retired Supreme Court Justice Rohini Marasinghe said: “The failure of the police to prepare for this eventuality and prevent and manage the violence and destruction is a gross failure of public order. There must be an immediate inquiry into this matter. The inaction of the police to prevent the clash is condemned.”

The Island brought the latest developments to the notice of the HRCSL yesterday as MP Weerawansa said that those who conspired and planned the project that involved those at the helm of Temple Trees then and the SLPP should be arrested. The conspirators shouldn’t be allowed to escape justice while the CID arrested those who carried out the actual attacks.

Police spokesman SSP Nihal Thalduwa said that the department couldn’t respond to what transpired in Parliament. Acknowledging that he was aware of the allegations made in Parliament, Attorney-at-Law Thalduwa said in case their response was sought through proper channels, whatever the queries would be answered.

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Dr. Pathirana says IGP, Public Security Ministry Secy. allowed goon attacks

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Galle District parliamentarian Dr. Ramesh Pathirana has reiterated that IGP C.D. Wickremaratne and Secretary to the Public Security Ministry, Maj. General (retd) Jagath Alwis had facilitated the 09 May unprovoked attack on anti-government protesters.

The former Minister Pathirana declared in Parliament yesterday (18) that National Freedom Front (NFF) leader MP Wimal Weerawansa’s allegation, pertaining to the origins of the violence, was true.

Dr. Pathirana said that he was among those who had brought supporters to attend a meeting chaired by the then Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. The vast majority of those who attended the Temple Trees meet on May 09 wanted to thank the war-winning President as he gave up active politics, the MP said. However, some unscrupulous members had instigated the participants there.

Dr. Pathirana said he had been at Temple Trees at that time and as he feared violence could erupt due inflammatory speeches, contact was made with Senior DIG in charge of Colombo Deshabandu Tennakoon. Dr. Pathirana said that the senior police officer had assured him that the police were ready to face the situation and confident of preventing those who attended the Temple Trees function from reaching Galle Face.

“Thereafter, I left Temple Trees for a meeting with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. There were several other members. When trouble erupted, President Rajapaksa immediately got in touch with Senior DIG Tennakoon, who revealed he had been asked not to use force by the IGP himself.”

Dr. Pathirana said the President had asked the senior law enforcement officer why he didn’t carry out instructions issued by him (the President).

The Galle District MP emphasised that the IGP and the Secretary to the Public Security Ministry were responsible for the violence at Kollupitiya and Fort police areas which triggered violence in many parts of the country. (SF)

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New Deputy Speaker not from Rajapaksa political dynasty

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Newly-elected Deputy Speaker Ajith Rajapaksa said that he was not a member of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s clan.

The Hambantota District Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) lawmaker said so when The Island asked him whether he, too, was a member of the Rajapaksa family now under fire over the continuing political-economic-social turmoil.

Rajapaksa polled 109 votes at a secret vote held in Parliament on Tuesday (17) to secure the Deputy Speaker’s post. MP Rajapaksa defeated Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) MP Rohini Kaviratne, who polled 78 votes.

The SLPP rebel group members refrained from voting for Rajapaksa after the top SLPP leadership ignored their appeal to fill the vacancy through consultations with the SJB.

Rajapaksa succeeded SLFP’s Ranjith Siyambalapitiya, who quit the post twice, the second occasion after beating SJB’s Imthiaz Bakeer Markar at a secret vote.

Deputy Speaker Rajapaksha said that he had served as the Chairman of the Ambalanthota Pradeshiya Sabha in 1997. Subsequently, he became a member of the Southern Provincial Council.

Asked whether he was a resident of the Rajapaksas’ home base, Deputy Speaker said that he was from Pallerotta, Ambalantota. (SF)

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