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

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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 – githmi@ips.lk)



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Over 100,000 customers aboard Q+ Payment app

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The Q+ Payment App, Sri Lanka’s first QR-based payment application to be launched under LANKAQR, has surpassed the 100,000 registered customers milestone, doubling its customer base in just five months, the app’s owner the Commercial Bank of Ceylon has announced.

The fastest growing QR app in the country, Q+ Payment App has an easy self-registration process, and is well received by customers owing to the convenience and security it offers them in cashless payment processing when they pay for purchases by scanning QR codes via mobile phones or via the in-app bill payment facility, the Bank said.

Designed as a hassle-free payment alternative for cardholders and vendors, the app gained popularity via a series of Bank-driven promotions in collaboration with popular local retailers and due to its participation in a number of Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) led ‘??????LANKAQR’ programs held across the country.

Positioned as the next dimension of payment options, the Q+ Payment App enables cardholders to pay for purchases via their mobile phones simply by scanning the merchant’s QR code. Since the launch, the app underwent several functionality-enhancing upgrades including biometric authentication login for both the consumer and merchant applications, an ‘In-App Bill Payments’ feature that allows customers connected to the Bank’s Debit, Credit or Prepaid cards to pay bills instantly, the facility to promptly settle Credit Card outstanding and top-up Pre-paid Cards, and most recently, the addition of an ‘Online Pay’ feature which enables customers to pay for online purchases by entering their mobile numbers in merchant websites and apps that have ‘Q+ Payment App’ as a payment option.

The ‘In-App Payments’ feature enables Q+ Payment App customers to make payments in many categories such as data reloads, prepaid and post-paid mobiles, fixed telephone lines, water and electricity (CEB and LECO) and pay-TV bills.

The dynamic and interactive customer experience and convenience the app offers are the driving forces behind its popularity, the Bank said. By binding their cards to the Q+ Payment App, ComBank cardholders avoid pulling out the card from their wallets which prevents card losses and card theft. This also encourages the use of environment friendly, paperless-banking features such as Digital receipts and in-App alerts. Payments done using Q+ Payment App require authentication using a static PIN which ensures the safety and security of transactions, making the Q+ Payment App more secure than a normal card.

Customers can add their ComBank Visa, Mastercard and UnionPay cards to the Q+ Payment App, enabling them to perform LankaQR, mVisa, and Mastercard QR transactions. A maximum of five cards can be added to the app. Q+ Payment App is the only payment app in Sri Lanka that supports LankaQR, mVisa, and Mastercard QR transactions. Moreover, the Q+ Payment App is certified for use at overseas QR merchants through the Visa and MasterCard networks.

Sri Lanka’s first fully carbon neutral bank, the first Sri Lankan bank to be listed among the Top 1000 Banks of the World and the only Sri Lankan bank to be so listed for 11 years consecutively, Commercial Bank operates a network of 268 branches and 931 automated machines in Sri Lanka. The Bank’s overseas operations encompass Bangladesh, where the Bank operates 19 outlets; Myanmar, where it has a Microfinance company in Nay Pyi Taw; and the Maldives, where the Bank has a fully-fledged Tier I Bank with a majority stake.

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HNB recognized as ‘Best Retail and SME Bank’ at International Finance Awards

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Sri Lanka’s most innovative private sector bank HNB PLC, once again consolidated on its reputation for banking excellence at the International Finance Awards 2021, bagging the Best Retail Bank and Best SME Bank awards in the banking category, a news release said last week.

Organized by the prestigious International Finance Magazine as a global platform for the recognition and celebration of the world’s most successful financial institutions, the awards highlight the accomplishments of corporates leading in innovation, infrastructure development and customer-centricity.

As the sector has evolved due to a raft of regulations, technology developments and market reforms, each applicant has been researched by dedicated experts with special consideration directed towards the strength of their applications, performance and past accomplishments, the release said.

“We are delighted to have once again emerged victorious as the Best Retail Bank and the Best SME Bank organized by the prestigious International Financial Magazine. This recognition is a testament to our employees’ hard work and dedication in the SME and Retail sectors, which have evolved continuously despite the challenges brought on by the pandemic, to deliver unmatched products and excellent service contributing positively towards the growth of our clients. Moving forward, we pledge to continue enhancing our focus on transformative banking by leveraging the power of technology to provide innovative solutions and processes for all our clients,” HNB Deputy General Manager – Retail and SME Banking, Sanjay Wijemanne said.

Catering to the needs of over 2.5 million Sri Lankans island-wide, Retail Banking is a flagship segment for HNB. The Bank has been a pioneer in leveraging digital banking products, services and channels to provide customers with convenient, comprehensive and secured options to transact remotely, the release added.

After the onset of the pandemic, HNB rapidly embedded its full suite of digital offerings into the contactless delivery mechanism advocated by the state, kept branches open during curfew periods as per the guidelines issued by the Central Bank and operated our dedicated Omni Channel engagement Centre on a 24*7 basis.

Subsequently, the bank extended substantial relief to clients in Debt Moratoriums and Working Capital loans at concessionary rates. Notably, HNB was also previously adjudged the Best Retail Bank in Sri Lanka for the 11th time at the Asian Bankers Awards organised by the prestigious Asian Banker Magazine.

With 254 customer centres and more than 780 devices across the country, HNB is one of Sri Lanka’s largest, most technologically innovative banks, having won local and global recognition for its efforts to drive forward a new paradigm in digital banking. HNB has a national rating of AA- (lka) by Fitch Ratings (Lanka) Ltd. The Bank was also ranked among the World Top 1,000 Banks list compiled by the prestigious UK-based Banker Magazine for five consecutive years. HNB was also declared Best Sub-Custodian Bank in Sri Lanka at the Global Finance Awards 2020.

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Emirates launches exciting offer for families visiting Dubai during Expo 2020

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Emirates is pulling out all stops to make a vacation in Dubai during Expo 2020 a family affair. The airline has rolled out a special offer on children’s tickets to Dubai, in addition to a host of other added-value incentives to ensure a memorable experience in one of the world’s most-loved destinations for family escapades.

With this latest limited time offer, there has never been a better time to visit Dubai than now. In the promotion running until 6 November, families booking tickets to Dubai, will pay only 25% of the adult fare for kids aged 2 to 11 years old, valid for the duration of Expo 2020. The special offer is applicable on all Business and Economy Class tickets to Dubai, for travel dates up until 31 March 2022.

With Dubai being the host city of the largest World Expo ever to be held, Emirates wants global citizens of all ages to experience the excitement of the largest-of-its-kind event in the region. As the Premier Partner and Official Airline of Expo 2020 Dubai, Emirates looks forward to bringing visitors to the event via its route network which connects over 120 destinations to Dubai.

Emirates reveals the top source markets for families with small children traveling to Dubai this winter, as the UK, France, Germany, Russia, Switzerland and Italy. Emirates has also revealed that more than half of the visitors planning a vacation in the coming months have visited Dubai before and intend to stay more than one week to explore what the city has to offer.

Special offers on children’s flight tickets are not all that its customers can look forward to enjoying, with both big and small guaranteed a complimentary Expo Day Pass for every Emirates ticket to Dubai during the event. If that’s not enough to make a family journey to Dubai one that makes perfect sense, additional perks and attractive offers await travellers to ensure a rewarding experience.

Members of the airline’s award-winning loyalty programme, Emirates Skywards, will earn Skywards Miles for flight tickets purchased. Emirates has also launched a special Expo offer where customers will earn 1 Skywards Mile for every 1 minute spent in Dubai until 31 March 2022. Existing and new Emirates Skywards members who sign up for the programme before 31 March 2022, can avail the offer on Emirates.com, and will earn up to 5,000 Miles. With the additional Miles earned during Expo, family members will be able to redeem to enjoy reward flight tickets and other rewarding benefits.

My Emirates Pass is back, enabling customers to enjoy exclusive deals at over 500 retail, dining, and recreational attractions across Dubai and the UAE, simply by presenting their board pass. Details of the offers can be found on www.emirates.com/myemiratespass.

Dubai remains one of the world’s most popular holiday destinations, especially during the winter season, and visitors can choose from an array of hotels to stay at, to suit all budgets, as well as exciting entertainment, dining and shopping options for all ages. From sun-soaked beaches and heritage activities to world class hospitality and leisure facilities, Dubai offers a variety of world-class experiences.

Expo 2020 Dubai’s programme is packed with experiences, exhibits and performances to appeal to the entire family, with a rich line-up of themed weeks, entertainment and edutainment, art, technology and dining options for all palates. Visitors can drop by the 192 national pavilions for a journey through cultures, or the various thematic and special pavilions to get a glimpse of the future and the innovations that are making a difference in tomorrow’s world.

Health and wellbeing: Keeping the health and wellbeing of its passengers as top priority, Emirates has introduced a comprehensive set of safety measures at every step of the customer journey. The airline has also recently introduced contactless technology and scaled up its digital verification capabilities to provide its customers even more opportunities to utilise the IATA Travel Pass this summer.

Travel assurance: Emirates continues to lead the industry with innovative products and services that address traveller needs during a dynamic time. The airline has taken its customer care initiatives further with even more generous and flexible booking policies, an extension of its multi-risk insurance cover, and helping loyal customers retain their miles and tier status.

Customers travelling to Dubai are encouraged to check the latest government travel restrictions in their country of origin and ensure they meet the travel requirements of their final destination. For more information on entry requirements for international visitors to Dubai visit: https://www.emirates.com/english/help/covid-19/dubai-travel-requirements/

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