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Ship fire: Environmental destruction bill could be highest in recent history



by Ifham Nizam

The Owners and agents of the ill-fated MV X-PRESS PEARL container ship probably would have to pay the highest amount of compensation in recent history when it comes to destruction caused to marine life alone, a senior marine scientist said.

Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA), National Aquatic Resources Agency and the Central Environmental Authority (CEA) will prepare a rough estimate of the cost of environmental pollution.

Initial investigations have revealed that numerous fish  and other aquatic species are dying due to poisoning.

The Central Environmental Authority (CEA) on Friday put forth guidelines and proposals on the management of “mixed hazardous waste” generated by the MV X-Press Pearl fire to relevant agencies, including MEPA.

Since the waste washed ashore might have been mixed with the hazardous chemicals carried by X-Press Pearl, the total waste generated by the stricken vessel is considered hazardous, CEA Chemical and Hazardous Waste Management Unit, Director Ajith Weerasundera said.

The main guidelines are as follows: Beaches and places where the wreckage and debris of the stricken ship “X-Press Pearl” have been found should be identified and designated as “hazardous areas”; the people in those areas should be warned not to touch the waste.

The CEA has said that as this waste could be a hazardous, knowledgeable officers/workers should be deployed to collect the waste and they should engage in the relevant activities, using proper safety devices/equipment and methods. Immediate action should be taken to deposit the collected hazardous waste in suitable temporary storage/containers. The required containers and locations have been specified by the Central Environmental Authority.

Containers for storing the waste should be stored in suitable places and absorbent material (sand or wood powder) or suitable methods should be used to prevent the leakage of waste.

Security arrangements should be made to protect the waste storage areas from outsiders, (ideally by the Sri Lanka Police or Navy). This hazardous waste must be transported in closed vehicles and drivers and personnel dealing with it must use safety equipment, the CEA said.

Institutions permitted by the Central Environmental Authority to manage hazardous waste should carry out waste management activities. All costs incurred in this regard including the cost of waste disposal shall be borne by the relevant shipping company.

Arrangements should be made by environmental economists to calculate the cost of environmental damage caused by the ship fire and the cost incurred should be borne by the relevant parties.

The Sri Lanka Navy together with the MEPA launched a special operation to minimise the impact on Sri Lanka’s coast due to various debris including containers, possible chemical compounds and other hazardous material being washed ashore.

Although the beaches are already coated with oil, the biggest problem at the moment is debris, mostly made up of tiny plastic granules, which have now spread along the west coast of Sri Lanka.

MEPA, Chief Darshini Lahandapura said microplastics would continue to accumulate underwater, posing a threat to the environment.

The fire was doused completely on Friday. However, plumes of smoke were observed still billowing from ‘X-Press Pearl’ off the Colombo Harbour.

A joint effort launched by the Sri Lanka Navy, the Sri Lanka Air Force, the Indian Coast Guard and others has been in full swing for the past few days to control the fire aboard the Singapore-registered container ship.

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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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