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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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Supreme Court Judge, President of the Appeal Court, Appeal Court Justice took oath before President

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(pic PMD)

Justice K. P. Fernando, President of the Court of Appeal took oath as a Supreme Court Judge before President Ranil Wickremesinghe this morning (06) at the President’s House in Fort.

Court of Appeal Justice Mr. Nissanka Bandula Karunaratne took oath as the President of the Court of Appeal while High Court Judge M.A.R. Marikkar was also sworn in as a Judge of the Court of Appeal before President Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Minister of Justice Wijayadasa Rajapaksha, Secretary to the President Mr. Saman Ekanayake, Commanders of the Tri Forces and other officials attended this event.

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Strong earthquake hits south-eastern Turkey near Syria border

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BBC reported that a powerful earthquake has hit Gaziantep in south-eastern Turkey, near the border with Syria.

The US Geological Survey said the 7.8 magnitude tremor struck at 04:17 local time (01:17 GMT) at a depth of 17.9km (11 miles) near the city of Gaziantep.

The quake was felt in the capital Ankara and other Turkish cities, and also across the region.

Reports are coming in that several buildings have collapsed, and a number of people may be trapped.

A BBC Turkish correspondent in Diyarbakir reports that a shopping mall in the city collapsed.

Rushdi Abualouf, a BBC producer in the Gaza Strip, said there was about 45 seconds of shaking in the house he was staying in.

Turkish seismologists estimated the strength of the quake to be 7.4 magnitude.

They said that a second tremor hit the region just minutes later.

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13 A: Political parties miss Ranil’s Feb. 04 deadline for submitting their proposals

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Udaya compares constitutional threat with Indonesian crisis in late ’90s

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The government hasn’t received proposals from political parties regarding President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s decision to implement the 13th Amendment to the Constitution fully.

President Wickremesinghe, on January 26, requested party leaders to furnish their suggestions, if any, by Feb. 04 as he intended to brief Parliament on Feb. 08 as regards the implementation of land and police powers.

Political parties, represented in Parliament, had not responded to President Wickremesinghe’s request so far, authoritative sources told The Island. Responding to another query, sources said that the President’s Office hadn’t received proposals in support of President Wickremesinghe’s declaration or against it.

Several political parties, including the main Opposition Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) spurned the President’s invitation.

Having declared his intention to fully implement the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, enacted in Nov. 1987, during Thai Pongal celebrations, in Jaffna, on January 15th, 2023, President Wickremesinghe warned party leaders on January 26 he would go ahead with plans unless the parliament repealed it. Both declarations were made in the presence of Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena.

Sources noted that though several political parties declared opposition and some issued statements supportive of the President’s move, they haven’t submitted proposals in writing.

President Wickremesinghe prorogued Parliament, on January 27, the day after setting Feb. 04 as the deadline for political parties to submit proposals. The new session of Parliament begins on Feb. 08.Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) General Secretary, Sagara Kariyawasam, MP, told The Island that the decision to fully implement the controversial amendment shouldn’t be taken hastily.

“We are certainly not opposed to the devolution of power. However, we cannot under any circumstances support an agenda that may cause chaos,” National List MP said.

The Attorney-at-Law said so when The Island asked him whether the ruling party submitted its proposals to President Wickremesinghe.The lawmaker said that there was no requirement to do so as he on behalf of the SLPP explained to the January 26 meeting chaired by President Wickremesinghe why 13th Amendment shouldn’t be fully implemented without examining the ground situation.

“Seven past Presidents didn’t do that. Why didn’t they do so? We’ll have to study why they refrained from granting police and land powers in spite of them being part of that Amendment. If the reasons that compelled them not to do so no longer exist, we can consider the proposals,” lawmaker Kariyawasam said.

Declaring SLPP’s commitment to maximum possible devolution, MP Kariyawasam warned of dire consequences if decisions were made on the basis of language and religion.The SLPP that secured 145 seats at the last general election remains the largest party in parliament though over two dozen MPs quit the government group.

MP Kariyawasam emphasized that they couldn’t act recklessly on the issue at hand.Those who quit the SLPP parliamentary group, too, have strongly opposed the full implementation of the 13th Amendment. Pivithuru Hela Urumaya (PHU) leader Udaya Gammanpila, MP, compared the developing crisis here with Western project that divided Indonesia in the late 90s.Attorney-at-Law Gammanpila explained how Western countries exploited the economic crisis in Indonesia to compel Jakarta to grant independence to East Timor.

Addressing a public rally at Dehiwela on Feb. 02  in support of Nidahas Janatha Sandhanaya contesting March 09 Local Government polls, former Power and Energy Minister said that the challenge faced by Sri Lanka owing to the continuing balance of payments and debt crises was very much similar to the circumstances leading to East Timor independence.

The 13th Amendment would split Sri Lanka on ethnic lines, the Colombo District MP warned.The MP recalled how external powers created an environment that compelled Indonesian President Suharto to resign in May 1998 to pave the way for Megawati Setiawati Sukarnoputri to win the next presidential election. The MP said that Sukarnoputri granted independence to East Timor.

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