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MV X-Press Pearl disaster: Four options on the table for compensation

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By Ifham Nizam

The Sri Lankan government can opt for at least four compensation claims from the fire-stricken, Singapore flagged MV X-Press Pearl’s owners/insurance agents, a senior government official said.

“Though some of the claims could take time due to technical issues, we have a strong case when it comes to damage caused to marine biodiversity, which can be considered the biggest environmental catastrophe”, she said.

Citing the example of a similar disaster, the scientist said a claim for damages filed by the United Kingdom against a US-based ship dragged on for more than two decades.

Moves are underway to incorporate losses to the country’s fish production due to the fire, where chemicals mixing with the biodiversity hotspots within the sea bed have a detrimental impact on the fish harvest, she told The Sunday Island.

She also didn’t rule out the possibility of Sri Lanka being used as a dumping ground for chemical waste. “Some competitors don’t want to see Sri Lanka doing well in the shipping sector”.

She said the damage caused to the fisheries industry will be enormous particularly with small fish species where the adverse impact could be seen within two to three years.

The Wildlife Conservation Department said that apart from fish species, the harm done to sea grasses and nesting habitats, sea mammals and reptiles will also be substantial. “Our initial observations reveal the spill-over effect will last for more than 100 years”.

The operator of Ex-Press Pearl said the ship’s stern was resting on the seabed about 21 meters below the surface and the bow was settling down slowly. Salvage experts are monitoring the vessel’s condition and oil pollution.

The company said its experts were coordinating with the Sri Lanka Navy to deal with an oil spill.

Navy spokesman, Captain Indika de Silva said the navy and coastguard were bracing for an oil spill. India has sent three ships to help, including one specifically equipped to deal with marine pollution.

The Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ) is contemplating filing a public interest litigation petition against the company that owns X-Press Pearl, Chairman, Ravindranath Dabare said.

“According to the Marine Pollution Prevention Act No. 35 of 2008, a civil suit can be filed under Section 35 and criminal action could be filed as per Section 26. We had a bitter experience with MT New Diamond as we claimed compensation based on the Polluter Pays Principle, the lawyer said.

The Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA) said it is prepared to face a possible oil spill from the stricken container ship off the coast of Sri Lanka.

Oil Containment Booms will be positioned around the vessel with chemical dispersants dropped from the air to prevent an oil leak from spreading, MEPA chief, Darshani Lahandapura, said.

“If the weather is not on our side, we will have to be ready for a beach clean-up and we need to be ready for it”, she said.

General (Retd) R. M. Daya Ratnayake, Chairman, Sri Lanka Ports Authority, told journalists the first point of action is to determine if the fuel in the vessel remains onboard. Thereafter, necessary measures will be taken.

With the immediate focus on minimizing any further damage to the environment, Oil Spill Response Limited has been tasked with tackling any possible spill in liaison with the International Tanker Owners’ Pollution Federation Ltd (ITOPF), which will provide technical expertise.

Both OSRL and ITOPF have people on the ground in Colombo coordinating with the Sri Lankan Navy on an established plan to deal with any possible oil spill and other pollutants.

Renowned Environmentalist, Suranjan Kodituwakku warned that the transfer of ownership of X-Press Pearl after the fire was brought under control could result in Sri Lanka not being able to obtain a proper assessment of the environmental damage or compensation.

“We hope the government will intervene, as required, given its experience, to obtain equitable restitution and compensation for the huge environmental damage,” Kodituwakku, who is also Chairman/CEO of the Green Movement of Sri Lanka Inc., said.

Meanwhile, Environment Minister Mahinda Amaraweera said that even if Sri Lanka receives Rs. 100 billion as compensation for the environmental damage caused, it won’t be sufficient to offset the enormous loss suffered as a result of the disaster,.

The government has focused attention on the extensive environmental destruction caused by the blaze and many decisions on handling the situation taken at a meeting chaired by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, he said.

“An investigation should be launched into the cause of the fire and those responsible for allowing the container-carrier to enter the territorial waters of Sri Lanka dealt with under the law”, he told a news conference at the Environment Ministry.

The damage caused is beyond calculation. Therefore, however much compensation we may receive, it won’t be enough, he noted.

The President emphasized that priority should be given to the opinion of experts in mitigating the situation, the Minister said.

Andrew Leahy, Director for South East Asia of MTI Pte Ltd representing the operators of the vessel, told the media that water was filling inside the hull of the X-PRESS PEARL and salvors from the Netherlands are assessing the situation.

State Minister of Fisheries Kanchana Wijesekera said the Department of Fisheries has suspended vessels entering from the Negombo Lagoon and fishing from Panadura to Negombo with immediate effect as the salvage company involved in the vessel has indicated that the vessel was sinking at the current position.



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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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