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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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Vaccinations: eminent group follows-up with Prez., PM and ministers

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The group of eminent academics, professionals and civic activists, led by former Colombo University Vice Chancellor, Prof. Savitri Gunasekera, who wrote to the Director General of Health earlier this month (Sunday Island June 6) together with some others have now written a follow-up letter to the President, Prime Minister, the Health Minister and state ministers of health.

We reproduce its text below:

“We are writing to you as a follow up to our letter to the Director General Health, which appeared in the Sunday Island of June 6, 2021.

We raised in that letter certain  critical issues in regard to the current Covid vaccination programme. We highlighted the need for clarity in policy planning and programming and the importance of ensuring equitable access to Covid vaccines.

We asked that all front line workers providing Covid health services should be given priority. We questioned the exclusion of some and the need for rational system for determining front line workers and vulnerable categories. That should be given priority in the administration of the vaccine.

“We trust that the specific questions we have asked will receive clear answers from the Director General. We hope that the Minister of Health and State Ministers will facilitate that process as soon as possible, and as a matter of urgency. This will inspire public  confidence in the health system that the whole country witnessed, and was  acknowledged even globally, when the government commenced its Covid response programme in 2020.   

“We now understand that some stocks of Astrazeneca vaccine are still available for distribution. We also understand from an official press release and the media that new stocks of Astrazeneca  have arrived or are expected soon. We are now writing to urge and call upon you to please ensure that this vaccine is distributed in a completely transparent and planned manner to those citizens who received the first Astrazeneca vaccine.

 “All those who received the first Astrazeneca vaccine in the initial phase of  the Ministry of Health vaccination programme (after February 2021),  have a right to receive the second in the manner that is medically recommended. There is a lack of clarity in regard to the recommended period of time between the two doses of the vaccine. Already three months have passed since the first Astrazeneca vaccine was administered. A prolonged lapse of time between the vaccines can make the vaccine ineffective. This will impact on the success of the vaccination campaign in responding to the Covid pandemic. It is the duty of the Health Ministry to ensure that the second Astrazeneca vaccine is given to persons who received the first, as soon as the vaccines come to the country, without any further delays.

 “In doing so, we ask that within this group, priority is given to all front line workers directly involved in Covid health services, and to citizens over the age of 60-years, taking account of the date and the locations of the vaccination points. These are categories considered most vulnerable to the Covid disease globally, and according to the evidence base and statistics currently available in Sri Lanka. The Director General in media statements on the Ministry of Health guidelines, has also recognized senior citizens as a vulnerable category that must be given first priority in vaccine distribution and  administration. This is being recognized (and should continue to be recognized) in relation to the current Sinopharm and Sputnik vaccination distribution.

“Denying citizens their right to receive the second Astrazeneca vaccine in completion of the first part of their vaccination regime is a violation of the right to equality and non-discrimination in access to health care.  We call upon you to ensure that necessary priority is given to all front line workers and other identified vulnerable categories in the administration of the second Astrazeneca vaccine. Early information on the date and time for vaccinations should be provided as is the practice now followed in regard to the new vaccines, which have come into the country.

“Successive governments have respected, fulfilled and protected the important right to equitable access to health care from the time of independence, for over 70 years. We call upon the Government to collectively fulfill this responsibility to the People, in administering what is left of the Astrazeneca vaccines and in distributing new stocks.”

 

The signatories to the letter are:

Prof. Savitri Goonesekere, Emeritus Professor of Law and Former Vice Chancellor, University of Colombo; Dr. G. Usvatte-aratchi, Retired from UN/DESA, New York; Dr. Radhika Coomaraswamy, former Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict;  Prof. Arjuna Aluvihare, Emeritus Professor of Surgery and former Vice Chancellor, University of Peradeniya, former Chairman, University Grants Commission; Prof. Gananath Obeysekere, Emeritus Professor of Anthropology, Princeton University, USA; Bishop Duleep de Chickera, retired Anglican Bishop of Colombo; Mr. Tissa Jayatilaka, former Executive Director of the United States-Sri Lanka Fulbright Commission; Mr. Chandra Jayaratne, former Chairman, Ceylon Chamber of Commerce; Prof. Deepika Udagama, Professor of Law, University of Peradeniya, former Chairperson, Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka; Prof. Camena Guneratne, Department of Legal Studies, Open University of Sri Lanka; Prof Gameela Samarasinghe, Department of Sociology, University of Colombo; Dr A. C. Visvalingam – Past President, Society of Structural Engineers, Sri Lanka; Rev. Dr. Jayasiri Peiris, former General Secretary of the National Christian Council, former Principal of the Theological College of Sri Lanka; Dr. Ranjini Obeyesekere, Retired Professor, Dept. of Anthropology, Princeton University, USA; Mr. Priyantha Gamage, Attorney-at-Law, Commissioner, Legal Aid Commission of Sri Lanka; and Mr. SCC Elankovan, Attorney-at-Law and social activist

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Legendary conservationist to speak to Lankans on June 17 under WNPS aegis

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17th June 7 pm via Zoom and FB Live

Please register online https://forms.gle/8esbeh7SXbKdGuAK6

Dr. Jane Goodall, a legendary scientist, conservationist and humanitarian, who was named a UN Messenger of Peace in 2002, honoring her for a remarkable career that demonstrated her “dedication to what is best in mankind,” will deliver a public lecture on June 17 under the aegis of the Wild Life and Nature Protection Society (WNPS) and the Nations Trust Bank, the organizers announced last week.

“You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make,” WNPS said announcing the ‘Can’t Miss’ event via zoom and FB live beginning at 7 p.m.

The event is intended to “empower young people to make the world a better place

by caring for the world they inhabit and living sustainable lifestyles,” the WNPS news release said.

Jane Goodall made her name in the conservation world through detailed observations of chimpanzee behavior in Gombe National Park in Tanzania in the ‘60s; she revolutionized what it means to be human and challenged conventional theories held at the time, including tool use by chimpanzees and that chimpanzees are omnivores, not herbivores and have complex emotional lives and social constructs.

At heart she has always been a primatologist and it was her love for apes that thrust her career into conservation, in an effort to help protect their habitat and to preserve Earth for all species.

Participants can register online at https://forms.gle/8esbeh7SXbKdGuAK6

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Virtusa adds 24/7 COVID-19 Care Portal for employees to growing list of Pandemic Response and Recovery Initiatives

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SOUTHBOROUGH, Mass. – (June 7, 2021) – 

Virtusa Corporation (NASDAQ GS: VRTU), a global provider of digital strategy, digital engineering, and IT services and solutions, recently introduced a 24/7 COVID-19 Care Portal tailored to ensure the health and safety of its team.

In Sri Lanka, Virtusa enabled all team members to update their health and risk factors remotely, tracking and managing the well-being of its workforce and their families through the portal, mitigating threats of spread, recording vaccination progress, validating healthy employees and providing the option of safely returning to the workplace.

The app is supported by the 24/7 Virtusa call center that provides end-to-end pre and post COVID-19 care and assistance to employees, inclusive of transport, medication, food, help in procuring hospital beds and ambulances, self-quarantine and homecare support, in light of the recent surge of new cases in Sri Lanka.

Over 450 Virtusans have registered as ‘War Room’ volunteers to assist the core team in procuring necessary service providers and other amenities to ensure the smooth running of care efforts. A Virtusa COVID Care Fund was also set up to enable global team members to lend support financially, with Virtusa matching the contribution to cover medical exigencies beyond comprehensive group medical insurance plans.

A COVID-19 Information Center was also launched online to provide details related to vaccination centers and other regulated health and safety procedures in Sri Lanka.

“At Virtusa, our priority is to provide the best of care to our Virtusa family,” says Sundar Narayanan, Chief People Officer at Virtusa, who is also leading the Care Portal Initiative across the company.

“This means that everyone has access to best-in-class healthcare from the safety of their homes. At the same time, we are also reviewing our dashboard continuously, committed to exploring new scalable, replicable and digitized solutions that can address any eventualities that may arise going forward.”

Other key initiatives include enhanced medical insurance coverage, at home and drive-in COVID testing facilities, medical consultations and vaccination support for all team members. Virtusa also partnered with two private hospitals to dedicate eight beds exclusively for Virtusans and their family members who require urgent COVID-19 related medical attention. The team is also empowering employees with mental and physical well-being initiatives virtually, all the while ensuring benchmarked customer service and delivery at a global scale.

Having successfully partnered with the Ministry of Health in Sri Lanka to execute COVID-19 immunization drives in the Colombo Municipality earlier this year, the Virtusa Sri Lanka team continues voluntary services at Government vaccination centers in the Western province to support vaccination drives across local communities.

In neighboring India, home to a number of Virtusa offices, where the fight against COVID still continues, teams have been equipped with additional resources including makeshift COVID Care centers manned by Virtusan volunteers and medical experts in isolated parts of Virtusa facilities, home quarantining support as well as procurement of oxygen cylinders, with orders placed for oxygen concentrators to be made available for support during medical emergencies.

Furthermore, a mobile app – vRaahat, was developed and launched by internal teams to provide team members end-to-end support with real-time and proactive features including triggering an SOS alert, access to pre and post Covid-19 care, assistance in procuring oxygen cylinders among other features.

 

 

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