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



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.


Even four months after first jab antibodies generated by Covishield vaccine remain active – expert



By Rathindra Kuruwita

A significant amount of antibodies created by the Covishield COVID-19 vaccine remained even 16 weeks after receiving the first jab, Dr. Chandima Jeewandara of the Allergy, Immunology and Cell Biology Unit, Department of Immunology Molecular and Molecular Medicine of the University of Sri Jayewardenepura said yesterday.

“We studied this because it was a serious issue due to hundreds of thousands of people have not received the booster doses yet. Our research shows that a significant amount of antibodies remains in those who received the first dose. This is good news and I think we can give them the second dose. But we have to conduct tests.”

Dr. Jeewandara said they would soon release a report on antibodies that developed due to the Sputnik-V vaccine, and a similar report on the Moderna vaccine too would be released in a month or two.

Dr. Jeewandara said that 500 Sputnik-V recipients and 600 Moderna recipients were being studied.

Commenting on a recent study by the department on the development of antibodies by those given the Sinopharm vaccine where it was found that vaccine induced antibody responses in over 95% of individuals, similar to levels seen following natural COVID-19 illness, Dr. Jeewandara said that the study had addressed a key concern people had about Sinopharm.

“One of the biggest problems is that we have little data on Sinopharm. This study tries to fill that,” he said.

Dr. Jeewandara said that the university had started measuring efficacy and antibodies from vaccines since Sri Lanka started administering them. The first vaccine they started studying was Covishield, he said.

“Let me explain the process. We take a blood sample before vaccination. We do that to identify antibody levels before vaccination. In Sri Lanka most people who contract COVID19 don’t develop symptoms. So we do this as a baseline blood test. Then we get a second sample before the second jab is given and a third sample at a time the manufacturer recommends as the best time to check antibodies.”

In the case of Sinopharm, the third sample was taken two weeks after the second jab. The researchers look at the level of antibodies and T-cell response because they are the two main tools to fight or prevent the virus or prevent serious illness, he said. A person can either get antibodies from contracting the virus or through vaccination, Dr. Jeewandara said.

“These are not efficacy tests. Efficacy is measured in a controlled clinical trial and is based on how many people who got vaccinated developed the ‘outcome of interest’ (usually the disease) compared with how many people who got the placebo (dummy vaccine) developed the same outcome. What we did was to test antibodies but this hints at vaccine efficacy too. Immunity and protection tend to be similar in both tests.”

Dr. Jeewandara said that Sri Lanka was an interesting case study because most Sri Lankans were genetically similar and that one variant usually dominates the country. However, Sri Lanka used several vaccines, giving the country an excellent opportunity to find out what vaccine was best.

“We also studied Covishield and over 90% of people vaccinated with it had developed antibodies,” he said.

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Natural disasters affected 1,512,344 persons last year



By Rathindra Kuruwita

During 2020, 1,512,344 persons belonging to 412,520 families were affected by natural disasters and out of them 19,872 families were placed in 202 shelters, the Annual Performance Report of the State Ministry of Internal Security, Home Affairs and Disaster Management for the year 2020 has said.

The State Ministry added that 62 deaths were reported in 2020 due to natural disasters, 393 houses were completely destroyed, 30,317 houses were partially damaged, and 2,911 small and medium scale businesses were damaged.

The government spent Rs. 12.7 million to provide them with cooked meals, Rs. 18.6 million for dry rations, Rs. 5.5 million to compensate the dead, Rs. 130 million to provide them with drinking water. In total Rs. 166.8 million were spent on those affected by natural disasters in 2020.

“Based on estimates of the assessment of damages made by an assessment committee, compensation of up to a maximum of Rs. 2.5 million was paid to home appliances, and to buildings and equipment of small and medium scale business that do not exceed an annual income of Rs. 10.0 million and that are not benefited under any other insurance coverage. Further, an advance of Rs. 10,000 was also given to the victims to quickly repair the damaged houses due to natural disasters until the damage assessment is done. This money was paid through National Insurance Trust Fund and Provisions from the Treasury. Rs. 287.9 million and Rs. 320.7 million were paid from those two sources between April 2019 and December 2020,” the report said.

The report highlighted that a large number of people are being affected by dry weather and that many people suffer being unable to meet their daily drinking water needs. In 2017, 1,113,858 families were affected by dry weather, in 2018, 567,987 families were affected, and in 2019, 312,383 families were affected.

“In 2020, 364 tractor bowsers, 133 lorry bowsers and 11,936 water tanks were provided to all Districts to provide water to 310,742 affected families from drought,” the report said.

The relevant District Secretaries were also provided with Rs. 143 million in 2020 to supply drinking water to affected families.



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New guidelines for weddings soon – Health Ministry



By Rathindra Kuruwita

The Health Ministry will soon amend health guidelines on weddings after hundreds of complaints had been received on behaviour that could lead to superspreader events, a ministry spokesman said.

“We have allowed weddings to take place with 25% seating capacity or a maximum of 150 people but drinking and dancing are not permitted. We have received many complaints of drunk people and other guests dancing on fully packed dance floors. Covid-19 guidelines are not followed” he said.

Given this development the Ministry would soon amend the guidelines so certain activities can’t be carried out, he said.

Earlier yesterday General Shavendra Silva, Head of the National Operation Centre for Prevention of COVID 19 Outbreak (NOCPCO) said wedding guests were behaving irresponsibly and there was a high possibility wedding clusters emerging.

“We have set the maximum number of people who can attend a wedding at 150 but in some areas many more people attend wedding receptions. We have allowed these weddings to take place on humanitarian grounds but if people abuse freedom given to them we will all be in trouble. Over 1,500 Covid-19 cases are still reported daily.”

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