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X-Press Pearl fire: SC moved against local agent Sea Consortium Lanka and 12 others  

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Focus: Info on leaking nitric acid container withheld for over 10 days

By Shamindra Ferdinando

A high-profile investigation into the circumstances that led to MV X-Press Pearl carrying a leaking container loaded with nitric acid being allowed to reach Colombo has taken a new turn with the revelation its local agent Sea Consortium Lanka of Setmil Group suppressed information about the acid leak.

This was revealed before Colombo Additional Magistrate Shalani Perera on Monday (7) in the wake of submissions made by Deputy Solicitor General Madawa Tennakoon.

The Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ), last week, moved the Supreme Court against the Sea Consortium Lanka as well as operators of the vessel, X-Press Feeders. Authorities are in a quandary over the unexpected revelation that may compel the government to take action against the local agent pending investigations.

DSG Tennakoon named the Presidential Award winner Sea Consortium Lanka as the vessel’s local agent. Following the questioning of the vessel’s Russian Captain Tyutkalo Vitaly, the inves tigators have established that specific information furnished by the vessel to the local agent pertaining to the leaking container had been withheld. Subsequently, the relevant e-mails had been deleted, the court has been told.

The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) also recorded the statements of the ship’s Chief Engineer Sadilenko Oleg, a Russian and Chief Officer Peter Anish, an Indian. Their passports have been impounded. They were among 25 member crew evacuated by Sri Lanka Shipping Company owned tug ‘Hercules’ on May 25 following an explosion aboard the vessel, while a fire had engulfed some containers stacked on its deck.

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 went down where it had been since May 19 after entering Sri Lankan waters.

Additional Magistrate Perera has directed the Sea Consortium to furnish the originals of the e-mails from mail servers located abroad.

Investigations have revealed that the agent knew of the imminent impending danger though chose not to share the information.

Sources said that the vessel’s owners X-Press Feeders, the largest feeder operator in the world, couldn’t have been unaware of the crisis even though they didn’t intervene.

Sri Lanka Ports Authority Chairman (SLPA) retired Gen. Daya Ratnayake told The Island that they hadn’t been aware that X-Press Pearl had been leaking nitric acid since May 11, nine days before the fire started in Sri Lankan waters.

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

Harbour Master Nirmal de Silva didn’t answer his hand phone therefore The Island couldn’t seek his explanation regarding the latest developments.

Navy spokesman Captain Indika De Silva told The Island that the Navy on June 5 facilitated the recovery of the Voyage Data Recorder (VDR), also known as maritime ‘black box’ personnel of the Director General, Merchant Shipping. Navy and shipping sources said that it would help investigators review procedures and instructions in the run-up to the disaster.

Director General of Merchant Shipping Ajith Seneviratne yesterday (9) told The Island that the VDR had been handed over to the CID for further investigations. Asked whether his outfit authorised the entry of X-Press Pearl to Sri Lankan waters, Seneviratne explained their responsibility in terms of the relevant parliament Act was to issue licenses to shipping agents, annually. DG Seneviratne said that his office didn’t handle day today doings in respect of ship movements in and out of Sri Lankan harbours.

In terms of the Shipping Agents’ Act, Sea Consortium Lanka had received its license from DG, Shipping.

In the wake of Justice Minister Ali Sabry, PC, chairing a meeting attended by relevant officials, including Attorney General Sanjaya Rajaratnam at the former’s ministry, to discuss the issue at hand, The Island requested for an update. Minister Sabry explained that everything couldn’t be discussed publicly. However, the current focus is on taking tangible measures to make a proper claim for damages.

Minister Sabry said: “Our endeavor is to focus attention on specific areas to prepare for legal action on claims. In this regard, five sub committees were appointed to look at five specific areas relating to possible claims and asked to collate evidence, preserve those, assess damages past present and future with expert support and present it to the Attorney General for his response.

Legal team will do the research and support the Attorney General together with his work.

Identifying and appointing an international team is also being discussed where we have no expertise at the level expected to compete with a club of ship owners who process the claims for and on behalf of its members.”

Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ) and three others, including its Executive Director Withanage Don Hemantha Ranjith Sisira Kumara, in a fundamental rights application filed in terms of Articles 17 and 126 of the Constitution, in respect of the X-Press Pearl affair, has 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 CEJ Executive Director, in response to The Island queries acknowledged that at the time the SC had been moved against what the petition called the worst marine ecological disaster caused by the sinking of X-Press Pearl, they weren’t aware of the local agent deleting e-mails received from the Captain of the ship.

 According to the petition, in addition to 325 metric tonnes of bunker oil, the vessel carried altogether 1,486 containers- 25 tonnes of hazardous nitric acid, caustic soda, sodium methylate, plastic, lead ingots, lubricant oil, quick lime and highly reactive and inflammable chemicals such as Sodium Methoxide, High Density Polyethylene (HDPE), Low Density Polyethylene (LDPE) “Lotrene”, Vinyl Acetate, Methanol, bright yellow sulphur, urea, cosmetics etc.

Petitioners stated that the Captain and the crew members of the MV X-Press Pearl knew of the nitric acid leak from about 11th May 2021, nine days before the blaze started and had deliberately failed to inform the Sri Lankan authorities of such risk.



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People to get fuel price shock soon

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The Cabinet sub-committee on the cost of living had decided to increase fuel prices, Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila told the media yesterday (11) in Colombo. He said that the date of the price hikes  would be revealed soon.

The Minister said that if they announced the date, it would lead to long lines at filling stations and it would have disastrous consequences during the pandemic.

“We know that things are hard for everyone, that is why we didn’t increase fuel prices for 21 months. But the government can no longer bear the losses. The oil prices in the world market have been increasing. By the end of 2020, the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) had accumulated a loss of RS. 331 billion. Each year we spend three billion dollars to import oil,” he said.

Gammanpila said that the main sources of income for the country had been affected due to the pandemic and foreign investments and tourism had stopped and a large number of Lankans working abroad had returned, decreasing remittances.

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Office on May 20 said that a ministerial subcommittee discussed the sharp increase in crude oil prices compared to 2019 and 2020.

The PM chaired the meeting in the Committee Room 8 in Parliament. The Cabinet subcommittee discussed ways and means of addressing the problems caused by the crude price hike.

The PM’s Office said that ministers had discussed how to sustain public relief in the wake of further increase in expenditure. The subcommittee discussed the financial problems of the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) and the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB), among other things. The PM’s Office said that ministers had discussed how to sustain public relief in the wake of further increase in expenditure. The subcommittee discussed the financial problems of the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) and the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB), among other things. (RK)

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HRC asks IGP to explain how he intended to stop deaths of suspects in police custody

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Report called by June 13

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The Human Rights Commission has sought an explanation from IGP C.D. Wickremaratne as regards continuing deaths in police custody.

In a letter dated June 8, 2021, HRC Chairman Dr. Jagath Balasuriya has raised the recent deaths in police custody with the focus on two incidents involving Panadura and Batticaloa police.

HRC Acting Director Research and Monitoring Nihal Chandrasiri told The Island that the June 8 dated letter was the latest missive addressed to the IGP regarding this particular issue since the formation of the new HRC following the last general election in August 2020.

Chandrasiri made available to The Island, a copy of Dr. Balasuriya’s letter addressed to IGP Wickremaratne.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in late Dec 2020 named former lawmaker Balasuriya as the Chairman of the HRC comprising· Dr. M.H. Nimal Karunasiri, Dr. Vijitha Nanayakkara, Ms. Anusuya Shanmuganathan and H.K. Navaratne Weraduwa.

Chandrasiri said that the HRC first took up deaths in police custody in the wake of the killing of Dinithi Melan alias Uru Juwa, who had been arrested by the Nawagamuwa police, and Dharmakeerthi Tharaka Perera Wijesekara alias Kosgoda Tharaka in the second week of May 2021.

Civil society activist attorney-at-law Senaka Perera told The Island that continuing deaths in police custody should be examined against the backdrop of a landmark judgment, the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka delivered that the extra-judicial killing of a suspect in police custody violated the right to life, in spite of the absence of an explicit right to life clause  in the Constitution of Sri Lanka.

According to Dr. Balasuriya’s letter, reportage of the deaths of Chandana Vidushan and Ali Khan in the custody of the Batticaloa police and Panadura (North) police, respectively, prompted the HRC to take up the matter with the IGP. Declaring that the HRC has initiated an inquiry in terms of Section 14 of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka Act, No.21 of 1996, Dr. Balasuriya said that inquiries revealed both victims suffered cruel and inhuman treatment in the hands of the police, leading to their deaths?.

Expressing serious concern over what he called the absence of safety and security of those in police custody, Dr. Balasuriya has pointed out to the IGP relevant sections of the Constitution, in addition to Supreme Court rulings in respect of such matters and two letters dated Oct 21, 2020 and  March 17, 2021 that dealt with the issue at hand.

Asserting that continuing deaths in police custody resulted in deterioration of public confidence in law and order, such incidents underscored the threat to what he called public freedom. Having reminded the IGP that the HRC intervened in terms of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka Act, No.21 of 1996, Dr. Balasuriya has requested the IGP to submit a report to him of measures he intended to introduce to prevent deaths in police custody by or before June 13.

In the wake of several killings in police custody, Romesh de Silva, PC, recently moved the Court of Appeal on behalf of convicted heroin dealer Gampola Vidanalage Samantha Kumara alias Wele Suda held at maximum security Boossa prison. President’s Counsel successfully argued against the police taking Wele Suda into their custody.  

President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) President’s Counsel Saliya Pieris has appeared in the Court of Appeal on behalf of Janith Madushankar alias Podi Lassi. Having brought to the notice of justices, Sobitha Rajakaruna and Dhammika Ranepola, the most recent killings in police custody of ‘Uru Juwa’ and ‘Kosgoda Tharaka,’ Peiris sought the court’s intervention to ensure his client’s safety and security.

The lawyer has requested that the court direct the IGP to transfer his client from the custody of the CID to another unit.

 

 

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Health trade union alliance claims their strike a success

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

Senior health officials including doctors benefited from the current health crisis, Health Services Trade Union Alliance (HSTUA) President Saman Rathnapriya said yesterday commenting on the trade union action resorted to by a number of health sector unions, excluding the GMOA.

Rathnapriya maintained that the strike was a success and non-health sector unions  too had supported them because what he called unfair increases in allowances received by doctors affected the entire state sector. The allowance given to doctors had been increased by 78%, from Rs. 41,220 to Rs. 78,120, however other categories had not received any increase in their allowances, he said.

“Our union action was a success, but we are not happy we had to do this. Nurses and other staffers have not received any increase in their allowances although they too are contributing greatly in the fight against COVID-19. The Health Ministry is unnecessarily creating issues by giving a colossal allowance increase to the doctors,” Rathnapriya said.

College of Medical Laboratory Science (CMLS) President Ravi Kumudesh said that the doctors held top positions in the Health Ministry and for many years they had been ignoring the salaries and allowances of other employees.

“They not only mistreat us but create new issues, testing our patience. Throughout this pandemic you can see this. They get all the perks and have even their family members vaccinated. They are taking advantage of the fact that we are exercising patience in view of the pandemic,” Kumudesh said.

Kumudesh added that the union action had not affected the anti-COVID-19 programme, cancer, maternity and paediatric hospitals, etc.

“We are not doing this to inconvenience the people. We are trying to ensure that the Health Ministry does not create additional problems,” he said

President of All Ceylon Management Service Officer’s Union, Udeni Dissanayake said that they too supported the trade union action because the actions of the GMOA would have an adverse impact on the entire state sector.

Doctors had received certain perks in recent years, and they had contributed to salary anomalies and inequality of remuneration across the board, he said.

“Doctors were treated with great respect in our culture, and this is being eroded by the actions of the GMOA. They have been receiving allowances increased and after a while those of similar standing in other sectors, too, ensure that they get hikes, but those in the lower grades do not see any increase. Although we are not a health sector union, we fully support this action for two reasons. One is that the cause is just and the other is that the impact of the allowance hike given solely  to the doctors will soon be felt by us,” Dissanayake said.

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