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Raging inferno off Negombo

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As toxic debris gets washed ashore CEA claims everything under control

BY Ifham Nizam

Many people collected hazardous debris washed ashore from a fire-stricken container vessel off the Western coast, despite warnings. Authorities have urged people living along the coastal belt between Wattala and Negombo area not to touch debris from the ill-fated ship X-Press Pearl, some of whose containers have fallen into the sea.

The crew abandoned the vessel on Tuesday morning (25) following explosions on board the vessel. Well informed sources said that firefighting efforts hadn’t been successful and the fire fuelled by chemicals seemed out of control.

Chairman of Central Environmental Authority (CEA) Siripala Amarasinghe yesterday (26) warned of the danger of collecting various items washed ashore as the vessel was carrying a range of chemicals and other toxic items.

CEA Chairman Amarasinghe said that they had taken steps to prevent environmental damage caused by the ship, but the Negombo beach was littered with debris from the stricken vessel.

Police spokesperson DIG Ajith Rohana yesterday said that people had removed various items washed ashore. Action would be taken against them, he said. The President’s Office in a statement issued yesterday late afternoon stated that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has issued instructions to the relevant authorities to minimise environmental damage.

Amarasinghe maintained that the CEA had taken steps to manage the waste entering the country due to the accident. Officers were currently conducting inspections at the relevant locations, he said.

“Contaminants from the “X-Press Pearl” accident are considered “hazardous waste” and have not yet been clearly identified,” the CEA Chief said.

Urging the public not to handle debris, the CEA asked them to inform the Central Office of the Central Environmental Authority or the 1981 hotline as soon as possible if there was any environmental problem in any area due to the shipwreck.

MEPA, Chairperson Dharshani Lahandapura yesterday said there could be hazard materials in the freight containers.

“We received information yesterday that around 20 containers fell into the sea from the vessel. Some of the containers have washed ashore to the Negombo beach.”

She also said that “plastic pebble” like element had washed ashore along the coastline covering an area of around 1.5 km, adding that “a clean-up project will be conducted very soon to clear the beach of harmful components”.

Informed officials also said fire onboard the MV X-PRESS PEARL continued to burn rapidly across the vessel.

National Aquatic Resources Research Agency (NARA) Director-General, Dr. Palitha Kithsiri said a special team of experts had been assigned to survey the toxic effluents from the stricken vessel.

The vessel registered under the Singapore flag is carrying 1,486 containers including 25 tonnes of Nitric Acid, several other chemicals, and cosmetics. It departed from the port of Hazira on India on May 15, 2021.

Sri Lanka Air Force had once again on Wednesday dropped 425 kilos dry chemical powder onto the MV X-Press Pearl in an attempt to contain the fire, said Group Captain Dushan Wijesinghe – Spokesperson for the Sri Lanka Air Force.

Two Indian crew members of the distressed MV “X-PRESS PEARL” have been admitted to the National Hospital, Colombo.

The two Indian nationals who sustained injuries had been admitted on Tuesday, said Pushpa Ramyani De Zoysa, the Chief Nurse of the Colombo National Hospital. One of them has been tested Covid-19 positive.

An explosion was reported from inside the MV X-PRESS PEARL, on Tuesday morning ,and all 25 crew members were evacuated safely out of the vessel, Captain Indika de Silva, the Navy Spokesperson said.

The distressed container ship was manned by a crew of 25, who are Philippine, Chinese, Indian, and Russian nationals.

Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan authorities have finally decided to move the MV “X-PRESS PEARL” 50 nautical miles away from the Colombo Harbour into deep seas to prevent any further marine environment destruction around the country.



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Forex crisis will lead to power cuts, warns Ranil

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Udaya pooh-poohs warning

By Saman indrajith

UNP leader and former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe yesterday told Parliament that the country would face power cuts soon if the government did not resolve the foreign exchange crisis urgently.

Participating in the third reading debate on Budget 2022, the UNP leader said the forex issue could result in Sri Lanka running out of money to import fuel.

Wickremesinghe called on the government to make a statement on the current situation.

The UNP leader pointed out that Sri Lanka had only Rs. 1.5 billion in foreign reserves, out of which Rs. 300 million were gold reserves, which meant only Rs. 1.2 billion was the liquid amount in foreign reserves.

The former PM said the low foreign reserves could lead to the country facing power issues in the future as there would be no funds left for fuel imports. However, the Minister of Power, Udaya Gammanpila, assured that Sri Lanka had enough fuel stocks.

The Minister said it was reasonable for people to assume that there would be power cuts in the future due to the foreign exchange crisis.

Reiterating that Sri Lanka had necessary fuel stocks, Minister Gammanpila said the fuel in hand was sufficient for the next 40 days.

Although the Sapugaskanda Oil refinery had been closed for 50 days, measures would be taken to resume operations at an early date, the Minister added, assuring that the foreign exchange crisis would not result in power cuts.

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State Minister Ranasinghe assures farmers using organic fertiliser compensation in event of losses

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Provincial Councils and Local Government State Minister Roshan Ranasinghe speaking at a meeting held at the auditorium of the Polonnaruwa District Secretariat yesterday

Provincial Councils and Local Government State Minister Roshan Ranasinghe yesterday assured that the government would compensate any paddy farmer who suffered losses due to adopting organic fertiliser.

Speaking at a meeting held at the auditorium of the Polonnaruwa District Secretariat, the Minister said that even if the government had not proposed to allocate funds in the Budget proposals for possible losses to paddy farmers using organic fertiliser, funds would be obtained from a supplementary estimate for the purpose.

Ranasinghe said that it was wrong to state that the government shifted from chemical to organic fertiliser abruptly. The government had promised to do so in its election manifesto and people had approved it by giving a two-third majority of votes for that. The UNP too had planned to adopt organic fertilisers in place of chemical fertilisers some 30 years back.

The State Minister said that during the past 30 years all the governments had spent billions of rupees to increase awareness of organic fertilisers among officials and the general public. In addition, there had been numerous projects introduced with the assistance of the World Bank to promote organic cultivation in the country.

Minister Ranasinghe said that there were chemical fertilisers, weedicides and pesticides and there was information that some traders sell them at exorbitant prices. The government would get the Consumer Affairs Authority and police to implement the law against the black marketers.

He said that some farmers had raised concern that nano-nitrogen fertiliser would be washed away owing to the heavy rains, but the government would supply that fertiliser again as it was promised by State Minister of Organic Fertilizer Sashindra Rajapaksa.

The meeting was attended by ministry officials and representatives of the farmers’ associations in the Polonnaruwa District.

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Arjuna quits UNP

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World Cup winning captain and former minister Arjuna Ranatunga yesterday quit the UNP over its failure to get its act together

Ranatunga has communicated his decision to leave the UNP to the Leader, Secretary, Deputy Leader, and the Assistant Leader of the UNP.

Ranatunga said, in a letter to the UNP leadership, that he decided to join the United National Front ahead of the 2015 presidential election to make a change for the common good.

He has said as the first step towards that objective he contested the 2015 general election and secured the highest number of votes from the Gampaha District.

Ranatunga said that when many left the party in 2020, he remained with the UNP in order to protect it.

He said in 2020 the UNP suffered a massive loss, “and what is required is to prepare a programme to overcome the present and future challenges”.

“However, as there seems to be no such preparation there appears to be no purpose in remaining with the party”, Ranatunga said.

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