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Foreign firefighting tugs rush in to save vessel carrying chemical cargo

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

The owners of the ill-fated container ship on fire, MV X-Press Pearl, have sought the services of ‘Smit Salvors’, which helped disentagle a giant container ship that ran aground in the Suez Canal recently.

Firefighting tugs, ‘Posh Teal’ and ‘Salwar’ arrived in Sri Lankan waters on Friday night and Saturday (23). Well informed sources said that foreign assistance had been enlisted as Sri Lanka lacked capacity to fight the fire.

The stricken vessel operated by the world’s largest feeder operator-X-Press Feeders is anchored nine nautical miles north west of the Colombo harbour. It is carrying chemicals.

X-Press Feeders took delivery of the 2,700 TEU (twenty-foot equivalent unit) vessel in February. Authoritative sources said that Sri Lanka lacked fully equipped platforms to fight a fire of that magnitude therefore foreign expertise was promptly sought. World renowned Smit Salvors refloated the 20,000 TEU container vessel Ever Given wedged in the Suez Canal, blocking the vital shipping route both ways.

The vessel registered under the Singaporean flag carrying 1,486 containers, with 25 tonnes of nitric acid, several other chemicals and cosmetics was in anchorage when a fire erupted in a container stacked on its deck.

The vessel that left port of Hazira, India, on 15 May was on her way to Singapore via Colombo.

The Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) deployed two chartered tugs ‘Hercules’ and ‘Posh Hardy’ in addition to ‘Mahawewa’-all three owned by Sri Lanka Shipping Company Limited before the arrival of foreign vessels. Sources said SLPA owned ‘Megha’ a dedicated firefighting vessel couldn’t spearhead the effort as it was not properly equipped to undertake the task. Until the arrival of the foreign tugs, three local tugs were employed to reduce the heat in surrounding containers as the fire continued.

Both Sri Lanka Navy and the Coast Guard too lack proper firefighting capacity.

The Navy headquarters said SLNS Sindurala and a Fast Attack Craft were deployed at the scene of action to assist the ongoing firefighting efforts. The Navy also made a Navy Tug ready for immediate deployment in the event of any emergency.

Well informed sources said that the latest incident in Sri Lankan waters was a reminder that the country required sufficient firefighting capacity to face emerging challenges. Combating a fire on a ship was a high risk task that should be handled by experts. Sources pointed out battling a fire on a container carrier carrying chemical was especially a daunting challenge.

Responding to The Island queries, sources said that the SLAF in spite of inclement weather had dropped 425 kgs of dry chemical powder on the vessel on May 21 as part of the overall efforts to contain the fire. Perhaps, the government would examine the shortcomings in this sector at least now, sources said, adding that the country needed to acquire and sustain firefighting capability as efforts were made to attract more shipping.



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Strong earthquake hits south-eastern Turkey near Syria border

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BBC reported that a powerful earthquake has hit Gaziantep in south-eastern Turkey, near the border with Syria.

The US Geological Survey said the 7.8 magnitude tremor struck at 04:17 local time (01:17 GMT) at a depth of 17.9km (11 miles) near the city of Gaziantep.

The quake was felt in the capital Ankara and other Turkish cities, and also across the region.

Reports are coming in that several buildings have collapsed, and a number of people may be trapped.

A BBC Turkish correspondent in Diyarbakir reports that a shopping mall in the city collapsed.

Rushdi Abualouf, a BBC producer in the Gaza Strip, said there was about 45 seconds of shaking in the house he was staying in.

Turkish seismologists estimated the strength of the quake to be 7.4 magnitude.

They said that a second tremor hit the region just minutes later.

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13 A: Political parties miss Ranil’s Feb. 04 deadline for submitting their proposals

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Udaya compares constitutional threat with Indonesian crisis in late ’90s

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The government hasn’t received proposals from political parties regarding President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s decision to implement the 13th Amendment to the Constitution fully.

President Wickremesinghe, on January 26, requested party leaders to furnish their suggestions, if any, by Feb. 04 as he intended to brief Parliament on Feb. 08 as regards the implementation of land and police powers.

Political parties, represented in Parliament, had not responded to President Wickremesinghe’s request so far, authoritative sources told The Island. Responding to another query, sources said that the President’s Office hadn’t received proposals in support of President Wickremesinghe’s declaration or against it.

Several political parties, including the main Opposition Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) spurned the President’s invitation.

Having declared his intention to fully implement the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, enacted in Nov. 1987, during Thai Pongal celebrations, in Jaffna, on January 15th, 2023, President Wickremesinghe warned party leaders on January 26 he would go ahead with plans unless the parliament repealed it. Both declarations were made in the presence of Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena.

Sources noted that though several political parties declared opposition and some issued statements supportive of the President’s move, they haven’t submitted proposals in writing.

President Wickremesinghe prorogued Parliament, on January 27, the day after setting Feb. 04 as the deadline for political parties to submit proposals. The new session of Parliament begins on Feb. 08.Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) General Secretary, Sagara Kariyawasam, MP, told The Island that the decision to fully implement the controversial amendment shouldn’t be taken hastily.

“We are certainly not opposed to the devolution of power. However, we cannot under any circumstances support an agenda that may cause chaos,” National List MP said.

The Attorney-at-Law said so when The Island asked him whether the ruling party submitted its proposals to President Wickremesinghe.The lawmaker said that there was no requirement to do so as he on behalf of the SLPP explained to the January 26 meeting chaired by President Wickremesinghe why 13th Amendment shouldn’t be fully implemented without examining the ground situation.

“Seven past Presidents didn’t do that. Why didn’t they do so? We’ll have to study why they refrained from granting police and land powers in spite of them being part of that Amendment. If the reasons that compelled them not to do so no longer exist, we can consider the proposals,” lawmaker Kariyawasam said.

Declaring SLPP’s commitment to maximum possible devolution, MP Kariyawasam warned of dire consequences if decisions were made on the basis of language and religion.The SLPP that secured 145 seats at the last general election remains the largest party in parliament though over two dozen MPs quit the government group.

MP Kariyawasam emphasized that they couldn’t act recklessly on the issue at hand.Those who quit the SLPP parliamentary group, too, have strongly opposed the full implementation of the 13th Amendment. Pivithuru Hela Urumaya (PHU) leader Udaya Gammanpila, MP, compared the developing crisis here with Western project that divided Indonesia in the late 90s.Attorney-at-Law Gammanpila explained how Western countries exploited the economic crisis in Indonesia to compel Jakarta to grant independence to East Timor.

Addressing a public rally at Dehiwela on Feb. 02  in support of Nidahas Janatha Sandhanaya contesting March 09 Local Government polls, former Power and Energy Minister said that the challenge faced by Sri Lanka owing to the continuing balance of payments and debt crises was very much similar to the circumstances leading to East Timor independence.

The 13th Amendment would split Sri Lanka on ethnic lines, the Colombo District MP warned.The MP recalled how external powers created an environment that compelled Indonesian President Suharto to resign in May 1998 to pave the way for Megawati Setiawati Sukarnoputri to win the next presidential election. The MP said that Sukarnoputri granted independence to East Timor.

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Gas prices up

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State-owned Litro has increased the price of domestic gas with effect from midnight yesterday.

Chairman of Litro Company Muditha Peiris said the price of a 12.5 kg domestic gas cylinder would be increased by Rs 334, the price of a 5 kg gas cylinder by Rs 135 and the price of a 2.3 kg gas cylinder by Rs 61 .The 12.5 kg cylinder is Rs 4,743.

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