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X-Press Pearl disaster: SJB demands inquiry to establish accountability

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… appreciates UN assistance to ascertain damage

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Samagi Jana Balavegaya spokesperson Mujibur Rahman, MP, says the government ought to explain why specific investigation have not been launched to identify the failure on the part of Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) and others to ward off the threat posed by X-Press Pearl carrying a leaky container of nitric acid.

Referring to the recent Justice Ministry statement regarding the formation of four committees to inquire into specific issues caused by the destruction of the vessel in Sri Lankan territorial waters North West of the Colombo port, MP Rahman said that controversy surrounded the decision not to examine the SLPA’s response.

Noting that SLPA Chairman Daya Ratnayaka had been named last Friday (18) as the new Secretary to the Industrial Ministry in place of Anusha Palpita ahead of Lanka Phosphate Company coming under Industries Minister Wimal Weerawansa brought under Agriculture Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage, MP Rahman said that the handling of X-Press Pearl was questionable.

Former Army Chief Ratnayaka has been replaced by Capt. Nihal Keppetipola as Chairman of SLPA with Upul Jayatissa named new MD.

Lawmaker Rahman emphasized that it would be of pivotal importance to establish whether the SLPA and other state institutions responded to the threat as expected. Asked to explain, MP Rahman pointed out that the Navy owed a plausible clarification why Indian assistance was not sought till the afternoon of June 25, over six hours after an explosion on the ill-fated ship.

According to the MP, Indian High Commission made the revelation in a statement issued ahead of deployment of their assets in support of Sri Lanka. Pointing out that an SLPA team had boarded X-Press Pearl on June 20 afternoon, the day after the vessel dropped anchor outside the Colombo Port, MP Rahman asked the SLPA and Shipping Ministry to explain steps taken to neutralize the threat.

Lawmaker Rahman appreciated the government decision to seek the assistance of the international community to assess the impact on the environment by the X-Press Pearl disaster. A UN team of oil spill and chemical experts, provided by the European Union (EU), is in the country. The team consists of Dr. Stephane Le Floch, Dr. Camille La Croix, and Luigi Alcaro. The team is led by Hassan Partow from UNEPs Resilience to Disasters and Conflicts Global Support Branch (Ecosystems Division).

MP Rahman said that the SLPA and the Shipping Ministry refrained from challenging The Island revelation that the SLPA lacked wherewithal to fight a ship fire. The SLPA had only one fire-fighting tug called Megha and two tugs were leased from Ceylon Shipping Company, MP Rahman said, adding that according to The Island even the X-Press crew was rescued by a tug belonging to the private company.

The lawmaker questioned whether the fire could have been averted if tangible measures were taken to bring the vessel into the harbour and remove the leaking container. Declaring that the incident exposed the pathetic situation at the Colombo harbour though it was considered a major port, MP Rahman suggested that a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) was required to examine the incident. The SJB spokesperson said that Shipping Minister Rohitha Abeygunawardena’s response to the X-Press Pearl incident as well as the SLPA failure underscored the need for a no holds barred investigation.

Lawmaker Rahman said that the SJB was closely watching Justice Minister Ali Sabry, PC and Attorney General Sanjay Rajaratnam handling the incident and the case filed by the Center for Environmental Justice moving the Supreme Court in respect of X-Press Pearl destruction.

MP Rahman alleged that those responsible for ensuring safety and security of ships in Sri Lankan waters obviously failed the country.

Colombo High Court on June 16 granted bail to Sea Consortium Lanka Chairman Arjuna Hettiarachchi arrested by the CID on the same day over the revelation his outfit deliberately withheld information pertaining to the leaking container though being alerted by the skipper of the ill-fated vessel.

SJB MP insisted that a no holds barred investigation was required to establish the truth. Instead of proper inquiry some ministers and officials were engaged in a media circus meant to deceive the public.



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At least 17 killed after explosion in Peshawar mosque

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(picture from twitter)

BBC reported that at least 17 people have been killed in an explosion at a mosque in the Pakistani city of Peshawar.

The blast happened when the mosque was packed with worshippers and more than 90 people were injured.

A section of the building was destroyed, and officials say people are buried under the rubble. Several others are being taken to local hospitals.

The cause of the explosion is unclear.

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More heavy rain ahead for New Zealand’s largest city

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Auckland experienced an unprecedented amount of rainfall on Friday (picture BBC)

BBC reported that residents in flood-hit northern New Zealand are bracing for more heavy rains as officials issued severe weather alerts.

At least four people have died and a state of emergency was declared in Auckland, which on Friday experienced its worst downpour on record.

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Information Dept. media release: EC Chief asks public not to be misled

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by Priyan de Silva

Chairman of the Election Commission of Sri Lanka, Nimal Punchihewa, asked to comment on a special news release, purportedly issued by the Director General of the Department of Government Information, on Sunday (29), told  The Island  that preparations for the 09 March local government elections were going ahead, as planned, and that the media statement at issue was misleading.

The media statement says: “The gazette notice with signatures of the Chairman and other members of the Election Commission required for the commencement of the Local Government election process has not been sent to the Government Press for printing.”

Punchihewa requested the public not to be misled by any misinformation being spread in an attempt to create doubts in their minds.He also  reiterated that the EC would not be deterred by any acts of intimidation.

Three of the EC members have been threatened with death by an unidentified caller to resign from their posts. They are S. B. Divaratne, M. M. Mohamed and K. P. P. Pathirana. The Opposition has accused the government of trying to sabotage the LG polls.

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