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The X-Press Pearl disaster and the imperative for regional maritime cooperation



Righting the Ship:

By Githmi Rabel

On 20 May 2021, Sri Lanka’s worst-ever marine disaster occurred when a fire erupted on the Singapore-registered MV X-Press Pearl container ship just 18 km Northwest of Colombo. While the long-term cost is yet to be determined, the negative impact on industries such as fisheries and tourism, and people who rely on the coastal resources of Sri Lanka is already apparent. This article examines the key consequences of this disaster on Sri Lanka’s coastal economy and highlights the need to enhance regional maritime cooperation to prevent the recurrence of such disasters.

Impact on Fisheries and
Fishing Activities

The fisheries industry is an important sub-sector of the Sri Lankan economy; it accounts for 1.3% of GDP at current prices, exhibited a growth rate of 9.9% and accounted for 1.5% of export earnings in 2019. It is also a source of many direct and indirect employment opportunities from fishing to processing, distributing and trade and boat-building and maintenance. Approximately 583,000 individuals are employed in this industry and there is a supporting workforce of 2.7 million. It is also crucial to note that fish contributes more than 60% of all animal protein consumed in Sri Lanka and is the main source of protein for low-income groups.

However, following the fire and the consequent spill of nitric acid and plastic pellets into the sea and nearby coast, fishing was temporarily banned along an 80 km stretch of the coast. The effect on the local community has been stark, with some estimates claiming that around 16,000 fishers were affected. The X-Press Pearl fire, which disrupted the fisheries supply chain, from fishers to processors to wholesale and retail traders, made the fishing community more susceptible to the structural economic and social inequality they already faced. The coastal fishing community, one of the three sub-sectors of the fisheries sector of Sri Lanka, is the most vulnerable as they are daily income earners. The loss of even a single day’s income severely affects the ability of a fisher’s family to meet their basic needs. Furthermore, for most involved in this industry, there are no alternative means of income.

Of the LKR 720 million compensation received by the government, LKR 420 million has been set aside for the fishing community affected by the fire and fixed prices have been set for fishing gear and equipment in consultation with relevant businessmen. But it is important to understand the context in which this marine disaster occurred: the fisheries industry was already severely impacted by the pandemic. Islandwide curfews, cross-border mobility restrictions and trade regulations led to various constraints on access to necessary equipment and markets.

Ecological Impact and Tourism

Sri Lanka’s coastal tourism is heavily dependent on its rich marine biodiversity. The plastic waste and potential oil spills from the ship threaten not only the beaches and seas which are home to sensitive ecosystems such as lagoons and coral reefs but also its marine life.

The Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA), the main government body responsible for marine pollution, has stated that the plastic waste from the ship has probably caused the “worst beach pollution in our history,” and will lead to years of ecological damage. For example, the marine pollution caused by the fire is responsible for the death of 200 marine animals —including 176 sea turtles, 20 dolphins and four whales— as of now. Plastic pellets, which are easily carried by the tide, attract toxins from the water and can cause death if ingested by marine life, have washed ashore from Puttalam to Matara. Despite various efforts such as beach cleanups, the attempt to restore the coast is ongoing.

The coast has lost much of its former beauty and attraction, and out of 15 tourist zones, eight have been affected by the fire. Furthermore, the damage caused to fish breeding areas will result in lesser yields of crabs and jumbo prawns, which are especially consumed by foreign tourists. The fear of contamination and reduced supply of these items will have an immediate financial impact on the coastal economy. There is also the fear that toxic chemicals will damage the coral reef which takes years to regenerate. This depletion and ruin of coastal resources will have a spillover effect on both the fishing community and tourism leading to a mid-to-long-term economic impact.

This is not the first ship fire or oil spill that has occurred in Sri Lankan waters, with the MT New Diamond ship fire in 2020 being one of the most significant. Sri Lanka’s position in the middle of many sea and trade routes in the Indian Ocean, where around 200 to 300 ships —mainly oil tankers from the Persian Gulf to East Asia—pass daily, makes the country especially vulnerable to marine accidents.

Moving Forward

The X-Press Pearl fire was controlled only after Sri Lanka received emergency support from India, and this clearly highlights the inadequacies of current institutions to handle a crisis of this scale. While Sri Lanka does have a domestic structure in place to prevent and manage marine pollution, it is crucial that the country works closely with others in the region to achieve the same. Currently, the MEPA has the authority to implement the National Oil Spill Contingency Plan (NOSCOP) which allows the mobilisation of support from the navy, coastguard and the Sri Lanka Ports Authority. However, the emergency response system is too reliant on reactive responses as opposed to more proactive approaches, which aim to not minimise the damage caused by marine pollution but to prevent it from occurring. This requires continuous monitoring of waters and heightened scrutiny, especially given that Sri Lanka is on a trajectory to become a maritime hub and expand its port capacity.

Sri Lanka can achieve this only through regional cooperation —with countries such as India, Pakistan and Bangladesh— that is based on the facilitation of knowledge, resource sharing, constant communication channels and the formulation of standardised security measures for responders. However, this must occur through a formal, binding mechanism for otherwise, any assistance provided will be purely voluntary and context dependent. For example, requests made to offload the cargo at the Hazira port in India were denied which ultimately led to the X-Press Pearl fire on Sri Lankan waters. Given that the increase in maritime traffic has not led to a proportional increase in response capacities in countries such as Sri Lanka, official regional cooperation is key in preventing marine accidents and protecting shared waters.

Link to Original Talking Economics Blog:

Righting the Ship: The X-Press Pearl Disaster and the Imperative for Regional Maritime Cooperation

Githmi Rabel is a project intern at the Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka (IPS). She is an undergraduate at New York University – Abu Dhabi, majoring in Economics with a minor in Social Research and Public Policy. (Talk with Githmi –

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Lanka inflation hit 70.2% in August



Food prices climbed 84.6 percent, while prices of non-food items rose 57.1 percent in the crisis-hit island nation.

(Al Jazeera) Consumer inflation in Sri Lanka accelerated to 70.2 percent in August, the statistics department has said, as the island nation reels under its worst economic crisis in decades.The National Consumer Price Index (NCPI) rose 70.2 percent last month from a year earlier, after a 66.7 percent increase in July, the Department of Census and Statistics said in a statement on Wednesday.

Food prices climbed 84.6 percent, while prices of non-food items rose 57.1 percent in the tourism-dependent South Asian country of 22 million people.The Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) in August said the inflation rate would moderate after peaking at about 70 percent as the country’s economy slowed.

The NCPI captures broader retail price inflation and is released with a lag of 21 days every month.The more closely monitored Colombo Consumer Price Index (CCPI), released at the end of each month, rose 64.3 percent in August. It acts as a leading indicator for national prices and shows how inflation is evolving in Sri Lanka’s biggest city.

Sri Lanka’s economy shrank 8.4 percent in the quarter through June from a year ago in one of the steepest declines seen in a three-month period, amid fertiliser and fuel shortages.

“Inflation is expected to taper from September,” said Dimantha Mathew, head of research for Colombo-based investment firm First Capital. “However, inflation is only likely to moderate and reach single digits in the second half of 2023.”

An acute dollar shortage, caused by economic mismanagement and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, has left Sri Lanka struggling to pay for essential imports including food, fuel, fertiliser and medicine.

The country earlier this month reached a preliminary deal with the International Monetary Fund for a loan of about $2.9bn, contingent on it receiving financing assurances from official creditors and negotiations with private creditors.

India on Tuesday said it had begun talks with Sri Lanka on restructuring its debt and promised to support the crisis-hit neighbour mainly through long-term investments after providing nearly $4bn of financial aid.

The High Commission of India in Colombo said it held the first round of debt talks with Sri Lankan officials on September 16.

“The discussions held in a cordial atmosphere symbolise India’s support to early conclusion and approval of a suitable IMF programme for Sri Lanka,” the High Commission said.

Sri Lanka will make a presentation to its international creditors on Friday, laying out the full extent of its economic troubles and plans for a debt restructuring.

The Indian High Commission also said New Delhi would continue to support Colombo “in all possible ways, in particular by promoting long-term investments from India in key economic sectors”.

India’s support to Sri Lanka this year has included a $400m currency swap, a $1bn credit line for essential goods and a $500m line for fuel. In addition, India has also deferred payment on Sri Lankan imports of about $1.2bn and given a credit line of $55m for fertiliser imports.

The High Commission said India had continuing development projects worth about $3.5bn in Sri Lanka, whose president earlier this month asked his officials to resolve obstacles to projects backed by India. He did not specify the obstacles or the projects.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe has said Sri Lanka will turn a free trade agreement with India into a comprehensive economic and technological partnership.

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Raigam Wayamba Salterns Group turnover tops 1 bn



Raigam Wayamba Salterns PLC saw its group turnover increase from Rs. 959.6 million to Rs. 1,147 million recording a growth rate of 19.5% year on year.Despite the fact that the financial year 2021/2022 was filled with many challenges, as a result of prudent management practices implemented and followed, the Raigam Wayamba Group was capable of reporting its ever-highest growth in 2021/2022,” said Chairman, Raigam Group, Dr. Ravi Liyanage.

Raigam Wayamba Salterns PLC, which was listed in the Colombo Stock Exchange (CSE) in 2010 is the front line player in the value added salt market in Sri Lanka and it supplies a range of consumer salt products under the popular brands “Isi”, “Ruchi”, “Welcome” and “Triple Washed” as well as various salt products used as an input for different industries in bulk form.All the consumer products of Raigam Wayamba Salters are SLS certified for its quality and consistency and the processes are ISO certified.’8

The Raigam Wayamba Salterns Group is equipped with salterns, salt refineries and processing plants located in Puttalam and Hambantota districts. In addition to that the raw material supply for these operations has been ensured by the 1,800 Acre saltern established in Kuchchaweli in Trincomalee District by the parent company of the Raigam Group. Further the Puttalam Salt Limited (one of the successor to the National Salt Corporation) is also an associate company of the Raigam Group.

The well-known Raigam brand and state of the art island wide distribution network are distinct strengths of the Raigam Group. The Raigam distribution network operates on a latest IT platform and also includes distribution channels for modern trade, industry and bakery sectors.

Sri Lanka’s economy which was under-performed for two years due to COVID pandemic situation was experiencing the impacts of the foreign exchange crisis in the latter part of the financial year 2021/2022. Despite the fact that the financial year 2021/2022 was filled with many challenges, as a result of prudent management practices implemented and followed, the Raigam Waymba Group was capable of reporting its ever-highest growth in 2021/2022.

The group turnover increased from Rs. 959.6 million to Rs. 1,147 million recording a growth rate of 19.5% Y to Y. At the same time the Profit after Tax grew from Rs. 149.7 million to Rs. 215.6 million at an annual growth rate of 44%. As a result of these successful financial performances the Earning Per share for the year stood at Rs. 0.76 compared to Rs. 0.53 in the corresponding year. This has made a significant impact on the value of the shareholders’ investment increasing the Net Asset Value Per Share form Rs. 5.06 to Rs. 5.74.

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Singer’s legendry sewing industry and Academies developing skills and entrepreneurship in Sri Lanka



A name synonymous with Singer (Sri Lanka), Singer sewing machine has over the years become an indispensable product at local households, helping thousands of women and men to make a living through a sewing business. For over six decades, Singer has been manufacturing its trademark sewing machines in Sri Lanka. Singer brand has claimed many firsts in sewing machine innovations including the world’s first zig-zag machine and the first electronic sewing machine.

Singer Industries, a subsidiary of Singer (Sri Lanka) manufactures traditional, portable and digital sewing machines at a fully-fledged facility, where it provides direct employment for over 100 factory workers and accommodates around 150 service agents. The traditional sewing machines are of two variants such as the straight stich and the zig-zag sewing machine, while the portable and digital sewing machines cater to the modern customers. Singer Industries is mandated with assembly of sewing machines and manufacturing of cabinets and stands for sewing machines.

The sewing machine stands and cabinets are 100% locally manufactured with the help of local suppliers who also depend from sewing machine manufacturing. Singer Industries also consists of a strong R&D section for sewing machine innovations. All the sewing machines produced by Singer Industries are distributed by its parent company, Singer (Sri Lanka) through their 431 distribution touch points. Currently, Singer sustains its dominance as the market leader for domestic sewing machine industry with a market share of 85%. Among the facilities, Singer Industries provides to its customers, it has deployed special service technicians at island wide service centres for technical assistance and support related to sewing machines. Its YouTube channel has access to over 130 technical assistance videos to further support its valued customers.

The name ‘’Singer’’ is closely associated with sewing. One of its major contributions to the local sewing industry is the Singer Fashion Academy. For more than 60 years, the Academy has helped thousands of individuals to develop sewing skills and become entrepreneurs. The Fashion Academy conducts sewing courses and diplomas while a degree pathway is to be implemented soon to further support students. The Academy is also the first and only institute in the country to receive course validation status from the Chartered Society of Designers (CSD) in the UK.

As of today, the academy consists of 54 branches Island wide and offers 22 sewing courses, 2 diplomas and another 10 courses as part of its Diwi Saviya program for low-income families. Annually, over 5000 – 6000 students get enrolled in Singer Fashion Academy’s courses. In addition to the physical classes, the academy conducts online courses and also provides a recorded version of lessons to further facilitate students. During the last decade, over 60,000 students have successfully completed the Fashion Academy’s courses and some of these students have already started their own sewing businesses. The Fashion Academy has helped in developing the passion of sewing among Sri Lankans and as a result, sewing has become a hobby among many.

Sewing can be considered one of the most feasible self-employment opportunities with its potential to generate a good income. A business of one’s own is a luxury at present due to current economic crisis. Many individuals who started their sewing businesses from scratch have developed their businesses to highly profitable ones. Singer Fashion Academy has all the resources ready to help develop sewing skills and is committed to develop a skilled workforce for the betterment of the country.

(Company news release)

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