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Multi-billion rupee project in the pipeline to push up SL’s fuel buffer stock to 3 months

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BY SURESH PERERA

Sri Lanka has embarked on an ambitious multi-billion rupee initiative to significantly improve the country’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) under an ongoing long-term plan to push up the buffer stock to approximately three months from the existing 21 days.

As a crucial element of the strategy, a new oil farm will be built at Muthurajawala, while enhancing the holding capacity at the Kolonnawa storage terminal in the backdrop of continuing talks with the Indian government to reclaim 84 unused tanks in the upper section of the Trincomalee oil farm.

The operation of the 99-tank Trincomalee oil farm complex was given to Lanka Indian Oil Company (LIOC), a subsidiary of Indian state-owned IOC, under a long-term lease in 2003. However, at present, only 15 tanks in the lower section of the gigantic British built WW2 era facility are being used by the Indian company.

“The minister is in talks with the Indian government to explore the possibility of using the 84 oil storage tanks now lying idle”, says M. Uvais Mohamed, Chairman/Managing Director, Ceylon Petroleum Storage Terminals Limited (CPSTL).

“We need to prioritize our focus on enhancing the available storage capacity as the national demand for fuel climbs by 5% per annum”, he said in an interview with The Sunday Island in his office at the sprawling, six-acre Kolonnawa oil terminal.

Sri Lanka’s annual import of fuel amounts to two million metric tons of crude oil and three million metric tons of refined oil.

The Chairman said that 50 acres were sought for the proposed Muthurajawala oil storage project (adjoining the existing CPSTL facility of 29 tanks) but only 25 acres were released. If the outright purchase of the land is considered too costly, a lease arrangement will be worked out.

“The idea is to build bigger oil storage tanks at the new Muthurajawala complex because they are more efficient and easy to maintain”, he explained.

Referring to the proposed storage capacity expansion at the Kolonnawa terminal, he outlined that the construction of nine new oil tanks are on the cards at a cost of Rs. 3 billion.

International tenders were called to build four 15,000MT, four 7,000MT and one 5,000MT oil tanks at the Kolonnawa complex, and bids were awarded to an Indian company to construct six of them, while the other three will be undertaken by a Sri Lankan enterprise using 100% local labor, Mohamed continued.

“One oil tank at Kolonnawa, which is unusable as it’s around 50 to 60 years old, will be demolished, while another with its bottom deck corroded can be repaired. We can do it for Rs. 50 million rather than spend Rs. 500 million to build a new one”, he said.

The Chairman stressed that Muthurajawala was earmarked for the new oil farm as Kolonnawa is a densely populated, cosmopolitan area with inadequate land resources for such a mega project.

“What is important is to enhance energy security by improving the country’s oil reserves to meet any contingency. That’s why we are looking at a three months’ buffer stock in the long run. This is a fair target because even a big country like the US maintains three to six months in oil reserves”, he noted.

Q: When do you expect to achieve the target of enhancing storage capacity under the ‘long-term plan?’

Within the next two to four years, we will be able to increase storage capacity by 100,000MT. The refurbishment of tanks, which are either not in use or cannot be used to their full capacity, is being undertaken. As a result, in another six months, we will be able to enhance capacity by 20,000MT. We are expediting the whole process. These are concrete plans, not wishes. Energy security is of paramount importance.

Q: You referred to talks with India on using 84 tanks in the Trincomalee oil farm. Has there been any headway?

The Minister is holding discussions on the matter, and as we maintain cordial relations with India, I think we will be able to work it out. This was government-owned land that was leased out to the IOC. The Sri Lanka government will decide on it. We should work together to make it viable and beneficial to the country.

Q: The CPSTL is largely dependent on the private sector bowsers for the distribution of fuel island-wide. Don’t you agree that CPSTL should have its own fleet of vehicles for this purpose in the event of a contingency?

At present, 88% of daily distribution of fuel is done by bowsers belonging to both the CPSTL and private owners. However, CPSTL owns only 158 bowsers, while around one thousand others are hired from private owners. I agree that we need to enhance our fleet to strike a balance. Though we have a good understanding with the private bowser owners, it is imperative that we have our own in sufficient numbers in case of an emergency.

We need to reduce costs and enhance efficiency through rail transport of fuel. We have added 27 more wagons to our fleet with the support of the CGR (Ceylon Government Railway). We maintain a bulk storage facility in Anuradhapura for distribution to the North. We have now procured six acres of land at Kankesanthurai for a proposed bulk storage facility to supply fuel to the North.

As the “bloodline of the nation”, it is our responsibility to ensure fuel supplies to all key segments of the economy, whether it is shipping, aviation, transport, power generation or industries. All of them depend on our service. We have to render an efficient and effective service to the nation to realize the President’s vision to make Sri Lanka prosperous.

Bringing greater efficiency to this sector even by a small percentage translates into a saving on the country’s foreign exchange reserves. It also has an impact on the trade balance and the economy as a whole.

Q: Was CPSTL able to achieve its target in terms of profits for 2020?

We were looking at a target of Rs. 1.6 billion, but even with the Covid-19 pandemic, we are optimistic of achieving Rs. 1.6 – Rs. 2 billion.

During the height of the Covid outbreak, we distributed hand and floor sanitizers free of charge to the police, armed services, health authorities and other key segments. During the general election, the Election Department made a big saving as we supplied the requirement of hand/floor sanitizers to polling booths.

At 42 years, Uvais Mohamed is the youngest Chairman to be appointed to the CPSTL. The brother of Justice Minister Ali Sabry, he is a management accountant with work experience in the United Kingdom, India and Bangladesh.



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COVID-19: Jaffna faces serious risk

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Top medical man in North threatens lockdown

Five villages isolated in Ganewatta DS area

20% of IDH patients need oxygen

By Dinasena Ratugamage and Rathindra Kuruwita

Tough restrictions would have to be imposed in Jaffna if religious leaders did not help health authorities, Northern Province Director General of Health Services, Dr. A. Kethiswaran said yesterday. Jaffna was facing a serious risk of COVID-19, he said.

Dr. Kethiswaran said so during a meeting with religious leaders at his office. He said that a large number of devotees were seen at various places of religious worship during the festive period.

“None of these people follow health guidelines. It is impossible to control the virus because of this. At this rate we will have to impose travel restrictions in the Jaffna District. We need everyone’s support, if we are to avoid this fate.”

He then urged religious leaders to inform devotees of the dangers of the virus and not to gather at places of worship in large numbers.

 

Dr. Kethiswaran also said that a large number of policemen in Jaffna had contracted COVID-19. About 258 PCR tests had been carried out on Wednesday after it was found that 13 policemen attached to the Jaffna Police station were infected. Altogether 788 PCR tests were done in the Jaffna District on Wednesday, Dr. Kethiswaran said.

One hundred and forty eight new COVID-19 cases had been detected in several villages in the Ganewatta Divisional secretariat area, Divisional Secretary Niranjala Karunaratne said yesterday.

On Wednesday alone 733 PCR tests had been done there, she said, adding that about 175 individuals had tested positive for COVID-19 there.

Given these developments, Tittawelgala, Hunupola, Siradunna, Aluthgama and Hettigama Grama Niladari divisions at Ganewatta Divisional secretariat area have been isolated.

Travel restrictions were imposed on Kuliyapitiya Town, Thunmodara, Dhandagamuwa – West, Kanadulla and Pahala Weerambuwa as COVID-19 cases were increasing there.

PHI in charge of Divulapitiya said that 84 new COVID-19 cases had been reported from the area during the last 48 hours. However, no decision had been taken to impose travel restrictions in the area, PHI, S.A.U.T Kularatne said.

“Twenty-eight of these patients were among people who attended a sports event organised for the New Year in Aswennawatta Grama Niladari area. Forty-four people who went on a trip at Mellawagedara have also tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. If people are not careful, things might rapidly deteriorate,” he warned.

Deputy Director of IDH said that over 130 COVID-19 patients were undergoing treatment there although the hospital could accommodate only 120 patients.

All eight ICU beds at the IDH are occupied and 20% of the patients there need oxygen. The number of people admitted to hospital had increased after the Sinhala and Hindu New year, health ministry sources said.

Director General of Health Services – Western Province Dr. Dhammika Jayalath urged people to refrain from travelling to Colombo unless it was very urgent.

Director General of Health Services, Dr. Asela Gunawardane said that the coming three weeks would crucial.

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Covid figures: Govt. accused of misleading the country

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

The College of Medical Laboratory Science (CMLS) yesterday claimed that State Minister of Production, Supply and Regulation of Pharmaceuticals, Prof. Channa Jayasumana was making statements on new strains of SARS-CoV-2 without any scientific proof.

Speaking to the media on Wednesday, Prof. Jayasumana said that there had been an increase in the spread of Covid virus in the country, especially among the young people and that was due to a new strain of the virus.

President of the CMLS, Ravi Kumudesh said: “The Minister claimed they were doing a research on this. As far as we know, neither the Ministry nor the University of Sri Jayewardenepura has done any research to identify this new strain. The Ministry of Health stopped identifying new variants a long time ago.”

The Ministry of Health could neither plan for new variants of COVID-19 nor determine what vaccine was effective as it simply didn’t have the equipment to identify new strains, Kumudesh said, adding that identifying COVID-19 variants across the country had been outsourced to the University of Sri Jayawardenepura.

“I have repeatedly said that the Health Ministry officials can’t make science and evidence-based decisions or statements on new strains. Institutions under the Health Ministry do not have the ability to identify new strains of the coronavirus; only the University of Sri Jayewardenepura has a gene sequencing machine. We said this was having a disastrous impact on the country’s pandemic response and here we are,.”

Kumudesh said that identifying various strains of COVID-19 was essential to respond to the pandemic as everything from PCR testing to selecting a vaccine, depended on that.

“There are a number of strains of the virus in the world now and we now know that the new variant that led to a lockdown in the UK is here. We have to be ready to identify what strains are coming.”

Kumudesh said that since the country had opened its airports people from various countries would arrive, carrying new strains. He added that there might also be a new strain that originated here without “our knowledge because we don’t do adequate gene sequencing.

“To identify new variants, we must sequence the genes of viruses detected through PCR testing. We need many gene sequencing machines because one cannot identify new strains through a PCR test. However, the Ministry of Health has not provided a single gene sequencing machine to labs under its purview.”

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CEA accused of turning blind eye to cardamom cultivators raping Knuckles Forest

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

A government decision to allow cardamom plantations inside the Knuckles Forest Reserve, which came under the Forest Conservation Department,it was already having a negative impact on the ecosystem, Sajeewa Chamikara of the Movement for Land and Agriculture Reform (MONLAR) said.

Chamikara said that Knuckles Forest Reserve was not only a unique ecosystem but also an important catchment area for rivers such as Mahaweli and Kalu.

“Illegal Cardamom planters had been operating in the forest area for many decades and there had been many attempts to get rid of them,” Chamikara said

About six years ago, there was an attempt to remove illegal Cardamom planters from the Knuckles Forest Reserve. When the Forest Conservation Department tried to remove these encroachers, based on a court order, several politicians and officials intervened on their behalf, the environmentalist said. Due to those interventions, illegal Cardamom planters could not be removed from the Knuckles Forest Reserve, he added.

“In many areas of the Dumbara mountain range, forest undergrowth has been cleared to make way for cardamom plantations. This has drastically increased soil erosion and the soil that is swept away by rains have been deposited in many reservoirs after being taken downstream to the Mahaweli Ganga. Moreover, many trees have been cut to use as firewood to dry cardamom. There are many structures used to dry the cardamom dotting the Knuckles mountain range and these activities cause significant damages to the ecosystem.”

Chamikara said it was illegal to cut trees, cultivate and clear land in a Conservation Forest. The offences carried jail terms or fines or both. Moreover, the court could estimate the damage done to the forest and make the guilty pay that amount. Under the law, even people who encouraged such violations could be prosecuted.

“The CEA has the power to act against those who carry out such illegal activities. According to Section 23 (a.) (a.) of the National Environmental Act, when a project is carried out without obtaining approval, the CEA can present such people before a magistrate’s court. If found guilty a person can be fined up to Rs. 15,000 or imprisoned up to two years or subjected to both. Unfortunately the authorities concerned are turning a blind eye.”

 

 

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