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Sea Consortium Lanka probed X-Press Pearl incident

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) probing Sri Lanka’s worst ever maritime ecological disaster has recorded the statements from three top management level employees of Sea Consortium Lanka, the local agent of the ill-fated X-Press Pearl, owned by X-Press Feeders.

They have been questioned on their failure to alert the relevant local authorities as regards the chemical leak on the vessel, in spite of being informed by Tyutkalo Vitaly, the Russian Captain of the vessel, well over a week before X-Press Pearl entered Sri Lankan waters. Investigations have revealed that the e-mails sent by the Russian, informing the local agent of the developments onboard the vessel, had been deleted.

Sea Consortium Lanka, a Board of Investment (BoI), registered venture is the Sri Lankan extension of X-Press Feeders. The Sea Consortium is part of the Setmil Group of Companies.

Police spokesperson DIG Ajith Rohana, who is also the senior officer in charge of its Legal Division, told The Island that they were among 32 persons, including members of the crew, questioned by the CID.

DIG Rohana said that the questioning of Sea Consortium Lanka personnel was continuing. Police headquarters didn’t release names of those so far questioned by the CID.

Both Chairman of the SLPA, retired General Daya Ratnayake, and Director General of Merchant Shipping, Ajith Seneviratne, yesterday told The Island that they were aware of the ongoing police investigation into the alleged failure on the part of the local agent. Asked whether, in his capacity as DG, Merchant Shipping, Seneviratne had taken action in respect of the local agent, the top official said that they had not reached that stage. Seneviratne said that investigations were continuing.

DG, Merchant Shipping is the authority for issuing licences to local agents on the recommendation of ship owners.

DIG Rohana said that the Government Analyst’s Department had informed the CID that it needed the assistance of the manufacturer of the Voyage Data Recorder (VDR) of the vessel to read its data.

According to information provided to the court by Deputy Solicitor General Madhava Tennakoon, emails from the captain to X-Press Feeders’ local agent Sea Consortium had been deleted by the latter.

The Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ) has moved the Supreme Court against the Sea Consortium Lanka as well as operators of the vessel, X-Press Feeders. CEJ and three others, including its Executive Director Withanage Don Hemantha Ranjith Sisira Kumara have, in a fundamental rights application filed in terms of Articles 17 and 126 of the Constitution, in respect of the X-Press Pearl affair, named X-Press Feeders and its local agent Sea Consortium Lanka as 11th and 12th respondents. They were among 13 respondents, including the Attorney General.

The Singapore-registered MV X-Press Pearl sank on June 2, 9.5 nautical miles North West of Colombo port, the day after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa directed that it be towed to deeper seas. Shipping sources told The Island that the vessel had gone down where it had been since May 19 after entering Sri Lankan waters.

International news agencies reported that ports in Qatar and India had declined to offload the leaking acid container loaded in Jebel Ali, Dubai.

Shipping Minister Rohitha Abeygunawardena didn’t answer his mobile phone.



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Hemas collect discarded carbon pens, toothbrushes from schools

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By ifham Nizam

Hemas Holdings PLC and the Environment Ministry yesterday came together to provide schools with containers to collect used plastic items such as ballpoint pens and toothbrushes. Hemas Holdings PLC, will supply the containers until April 2022.

The agreement was signed by Environment Minister Mahinda Amaraweera and Hemas Holdings PLC CEO Kasturi Chellaraja Wilson, Executive Director Shiromi Masakorala, Senior Manager Ishani Ranasinghe and Manager Mindika Tillekeratne were also present on the occasion.

Minister Amaraweera said it took 400-500 years for used ballpoint pens and tooth brushes to decompose. Amaraweera instructed officials not to spend any government money on the scheme.

The government school system alone discarded between 80-100 kilograms of used ballpoint pens a day. As with other public and private institutions, there was no accurate information on the ballpoint pens used and discarded by individuals, the Minister added. The Minister said that it had been estimated that at least one million toothbrushes were discarded daily.

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AZ vaccine delay baffles over 500,000 awaiting second shot 

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DGHS to be summoned by HRCSL  

 

By Shamindra Ferdinando 

The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) has decided to summon the Director General of Health Services (DGHS) Dr. Asela Gunawardena for failure to address HRCSL’s concerns pertaining to the ongoing Covid-19 vaccination programme. 

Dr. Jagath Balasuriya, Chairman, HRCSL, on May 28, in writing, requested Dr. Gunawardena to submit a comprehensive report on the vaccination programme by, or before, June 15. 

A senior spokesperson for the HRCSL yesterday (27) told The Island that Dr. Gunawardena would be summoned as the request made in terms of Human Rights Act of Sri Lanka Act No 21 of 1996 was not adhered to. 

The HRCSL consists of Dr. Jagath Balasuriya, Dr. M.H. Nimal Karunasiri, Dr. Vijitha Nanayakkara, Ms. Anusuya Shanmuganathan and H.K. Navaratne Weraduwa. 

DGHS is the senior officer in charge of Covid-19 inoculation drive. 

In HRCSL letter dated May 28 addressed to Dr. Gunawardena, one-time lawmaker Dr. Balasuriya said that clarification was sought after receiving representations as regarding the inoculation drive. 

Dr. Gunawardena didn’t answer his phone for us to clarify the issue at hand. 

Meanwhile, controversy surrounds the decision to suspend giving Pfizer as the second jab to those who had received Covishield (AstraZeneca). According to the health ministry, 2,171 Covishield recipients were given Pfizer on July 7 and further inoculation was suspended abruptly on July 8 claiming that sufficient stock of AstraZeneca would be available in the third week of July. The announcement was made by Deputy Director General Health Services, Dr. Hemantha Herath who declared the immediate suspension of Pfizer vaccines for recipients, who had got Covishield as their first dose. 

The Island yesterday sought an explanation from Dr. Herath as regards the inordinate delay in inoculation of those awaiting the second AstraZeneca jab. Dr. Herath said that administration of Pfizer was stopped on July 8 after the Health Ministry received an assurance from the WHO that 1.4 mn AztraZeneca stock would be available in the third week. Dr. Herath emphasized that if not for that assurance, the government wouldn’t have stopped using Pfizer. “Now, we are hopefully awaiting the delivery of the promised stock under Covax facility.” 

Dr. Herath said that the Health Ministry was in touch with the WHO in that regard. The Health Ministry spokesperson was responding to The Island query whether the issue at hand was taken up with the Japanese embassy.

The Japanese embassy in Colombo on July 13 announced that Japan would provide approximately 1.45 million doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine manufactured in Japan to Sri Lanka through the COVAX facility to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Sri Lanka. The embassy said that the vaccines were expected to be delivered during the coming weeks.  

Dr. Herath acknowledged that the sudden stopping of the well planned programme to vaccinate those who had received Covishield with Pfizer as the second dose somewhat derailed the operation. 

Responding to another query, Dr. Herath said that so far Sri Lanka had received 264,000 doses under the Covax project though the initial estimates indicated 4.5 mn doses in a quarter once the operation got underway.  

Dr. Herath emphasized that on the part of the health ministry and the government there was absolutely no effort to deceive those who received Covishield as first doze. Over 500,000 of those who had got Covishield first jab remained to be inoculated with the second AstraZeneca jab, Dr. Herath said, asserting that Sri Lanka was blessed with a functioning system to carry out the challenging task. “Unfortunately, we didn’t get the required supply of doses of Covishield as pledged by the WHO Dr. Herath said, assuring they would do whatever possible to inoculate those who had been deprived of Covishield second dose. 

Dr. Herath explained that disruption of the Covishield supply chain caused a major crisis here. The health ministry spokesman asserted that the unexplained long delay caused uncertainty and in a way undermined public confidence in the health sector.

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North and East to benefit from 1.6 mn Sinopharm doses donated by China

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President Gotabaya Rajapaksa with Chinese Ambassador in Colombo Qi Zhenhong (pic courtesy PMD)

China has donated another consignment of 1.6 million doses of the Sinopharm vaccine to Sri Lanka to fight the pandemic. Two SriLankan flights, UL869 and UL865, carrying the vaccine arrived at the Katunayake Bandaranaike International Airport at 5.30 a.m., yesterday (27).

Chinese Ambassador to Sri Lanka Qi Zhenhong officially handed over the vaccines to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the Presidential Secretariat, yesterday (27).

In addition to these vaccines, a stock of syringes has also been donated. The vaccines were handed over to the Ministry of Health to be given to people over the age of 30 years in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. 72% of the vaccines used in the vaccination process in Sri Lanka is Sinopharm.

President Rajapaksa said that he highly appreciated the support provided by the Chinese Government for the control of COVID – 19 by donating 600,000 doses of Sinopharm vaccines on March 31, 500,000 on May 26 and 1.6 million doses yesterday.

The President pointed out that by the end of August, all those over the age of 30 would be vaccinated and the tourism industry would be able to commence from September. “Therefore, the Chinese people are invited to visit Sri Lanka again”, the President said.

Ministers Pavithra Wanniarachchi and Douglas Devananda, Secretary to the President P.B. Jayasundera, Senior Advisor to President Mr. Lalith Weeratunga, Foreign Secretary Admiral Jayanath Colombage, and the Political Officer of the Chinese Embassy Luo Chong was also present on the occasion.

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