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MEPA urged to ensure safety of workers engaged in clearing toxic debris from X-Press disaster

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By Ifham Nizam

Nearly 70 people engaged in the cleaning and collecting of nurdles from the ill-fated X-Press Pearl Ship, which sank off the port of Colombo in May 2021, were at a severe risk due to being exposed to harmful chemical substances, warns a team of experts covering a wide spectrum.

Hemantha Withanage, Senior Advisor, Centre for Environmental Justice/Chairman, Friends of the Earth, told The Island yesterday that they had informed the Marine Pollution Prevention Authority (MEPA) of the carcinogenic effects and the potential disasters in waiting.

“There are some 70 odd women at work and they are exposed to higher risk and it is the paramount duty of MEPA to ensure their safety. This should be scientifically handled,” Withanage strongly believes.

Withanage said that going by the scientific evidence, the ship’s chemical spill would have a negative impact for 500 years.

According to Withanage the International Maritime Organization’s Maritime Safety Commission is currently discussing how to address the loss of plastic pellets at sea and better track containers lost at sea.

Sri Lanka has submitted a proposal to classify plastic pellets as hazardous substances, and Vanuatu has presented one addressing the reporting of containers lost at sea.

Withanage added: “It is significant that developing island states located along the busiest maritime routes are taking a lead here. As global trade grows, their coastal communities are threatened by toxic chemicals and plastic pollution from shipping disasters that could cause them long-lasting or irreversible damage.,”

The ship was carrying 1,680 tonnes of plastic pellets. After the incident dead fish, turtles, dolphins, and whales washed up on local beaches, along with huge quantities of plastic pellets. Fishing bans were imposed and clean-up operations began. To better understand the potential toxicity of the plastic pollution, CEJ collected samples of pellets and ‘burnt lumps’ (plastic debris from the ship) from four coastal locations.

The samples were analyzed for heavy metals, benzotriazole UV (BUV) stabilizers, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), bisphenols, and polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).

“The X-Press Pearl disaster reveals the complexity of shipping chemicals. All steps should be under scrutiny to ensure this accident is not repeated. Our report shows these accidents have huge consequences on the environment and economies,” says Chalani Rubesinghe, project planning and management officer with CEJ.

Therese Karlsson, IPEN science and technical advisor, said: “Around 90% of the world trade in goods is shipped by sea. As container ships are becoming bigger and transporting increasingly complex mixtures of chemicals, this incident must be considered the oil spill of our times. To protect coastal communities, it is therefore crucial that prevention, mitigation, and regulatory measures are adapted to tackle the risks associated with today’s shipping patterns.”



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BASL urges President to de-escalate tensions in different parts of country

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The Bar Association of Sri Lanka has called upon President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to instruct the Defence Secretary, the Commanders of the Tri Forces and the Inspector General of Police to ensure that there is an immediate de-escalation of tensions in different parts of the country – especially at fuel stations – understanding the difficulties faced by the public.”

 “Whilst keeping in mind that the police and armed forces are acting under very trying circumstances, nevertheless it is necessary to give strict instructions to the police and the forces to desist from violence in dealing with the public and to act with utmost restraint”, the BASL has said in a media statement.

 “We also call upon you to ensure that steps are taken under the law to deal with errant officers who have subjected civilians to such violence.”

The BASL is of the view that it is not appropriate for service personnel to be deployed in the present manner in matters which essentially should be managed by the Sri Lanka Police.

 The armed forces should also not be used to disturb or hinder peaceful protests as was seen last week in Galle.

Full text of the BASL letter to the President:

The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) expresses its gravest concerns at the current situation at fuel stations throughout the country and the reports of several incidents of conflicts between civilians and members of the police force and the armed forces at fuel stations. There has been video footage of civilians being assaulted by personnel of the armed forces and the police, the latest being of a civilian being kicked by an Army officer at a fuel station. There have also been situations of the police and Army opening fire into the air to contain the crowd.

Your Excellency is no doubt aware that thousands of desperate civilians are waiting in queues at hundreds of fuel stations in the country. The queues are kilometres long. The tension at the fuel stations have arisen from this desperation for which there is no immediate solution in sight.

The BASL wishes to warn Your Excellency of the imminent dangers this situation could give rise to. The present unrest could result in a conflagration between civilians and members of the armed forces or the police. Some years ago, confrontations between members of the public and the armed forces resulted in the deaths of civilians. Such incidents between the members of the armed forces or the police and the civilians will discredit Sri Lanka’s armed forces and the police.

We call upon Your Excellency to take all necessary steps to give instructions to the Defence Secretary, the Commanders of the Tri Forces and the Inspector General of Police to ensure that there is an immediate de-escalation of the situation in different parts of the country – especially at fuel stations – understanding the difficulties faced by public. Whilst keeping in mind that the police and armed forces are acting under very trying circumstances, nevertheless it is necessary to give strict instructions to the police and the forces to desist from violence in dealing with the public and to act with utmost restraint. We also call upon you to ensure that steps be taken under the law to deal with errant officers who have subjected civilians to such violence.

The Sri Lanka Army and other service personnel must be deployed only in very limited circumstances as contemplated in the Criminal Procedure Code. The BASL is of the view that it is not appropriate for service personnel to be deployed in the present manner in matters which essentially should be managed by the Sri Lanka Police. The Armed Forces should also not be used to disturb or hinder peaceful protests as was seen last week in Galle.

We trust that this will receive the immediate attention of the Government as to do otherwise may otherwise result in unprecedented turmoil and harm.

The BASL believes that the ultimate solution to the situation at fuel stations is to be transparent with the public and to ensure an equitable and effective system of fuel distribution throughout the country.

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SC orders AG to submit report on fuel purchases and distribution

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By A.J.A. Abeynayake

A three-member Supreme Court bench consisting of Justices Vijith Malalgoda, Mahinda Samayawardena and Arjuna Obeysekera yesterday ordered the Attorney General to submit a report on fuel purchases, the distribution thereof and the sectors to be provided with fuel on a priority basis.

The Supreme Court made the order after considering two fundamental rights petitions presented by the Bar Association of Sri Lanka.

The BASL has requested the Supreme Court to direct the Cabinet of Ministers to consult all stakeholders and independent experts to formulate and implement the necessary policies, and to provide concessions in relation to the prices of essential goods and services to the people including LP gas, fuel, electricity, milk powder, medicines and food.

The petitions were filed by the President of the BASL Saliya Pieris PC, Deputy President Anura Meddegoda PC, former Secretary Rajeev Amarasuriya, Treasurer Rajindh Perera and the Assistant Secretary Pasindu Silva.

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A/L may be delayed by one month

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Education Minister Sushil Premajayantha told Parliament yesterday that although it had been scheduled to hold the G.C.E. A/L Examination 2022 in November this year, it could be further delayed by another month.

Responding to a question by MP Shantha Bandara, the Minister said: “The examination should be held at least after three months of releasing the results of the previous A/L exam because the students who need to sit it again should have enough time to prepare,” the Minister said.

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