Claiming compensation for X-Press Pearl inferno : Can the existing legal framework do justice?

Kamanthi Wickramasinghe – Daily Mirror

Successive governments have carried out massive propaganda campaigns to promote Sri Lanka as a maritime hub. However, maritime law experts are of the view that Sri Lanka doesn’t have a proper legal framework to remedy maritime disasters such as that of the X-Press Pearl inferno and that the country is not equipped with preventive strategies in the event of a maritime disaster. Insufficient laws and ambiguities have been observed in the existing law, particularly the Marine Pollution Prevention Act No. 35 of 2008 which needs to be reformed in order to execute a proper legal process in these kinds of events.

Shipowners and local authorities at fault
When X-Press Pearl made a distress call regarding a fire onboard the vessel the ship was already in Sri Lankan waters. “First and foremost, one needs to look at how this vessel entered our waters,” said Attorney-at-Law, Dr. Dan Malika Gunasekara, Legal Expert and Consultant in Ocean and Maritime Law. “I blame both the ship as well as local authorities. While the authorities say that they weren’t aware, the shipowners claim that they had informed. When a ship is having a leak and once the Captain has sighted it, his duty is to report it to the next reporting port. The owners are completely liable for bringing an unseaworthy ship to our waters. If there was a distress call, salvage operations could have been done even in the deep sea. This is a grave and serious offense. If our authorities had known about the leak, but didn’t act expeditiously after the captain and owners have disseminated information then the fault goes to our side as well. They are contributing to the negligence.” said Dr. Gunasekara.

Successive governments have carried out massive propaganda campaigns to promote Sri Lanka as a maritime hub. However, maritime law experts are of the view that Sri Lanka doesn’t have a proper legal framework to remedy maritime disasters such as that of the X-Press Pearl inferno and that the country is not equipped with preventive strategies in the event of a maritime disaster. Insufficient laws and ambiguities have been observed in the existing law, particularly the Marine Pollution Prevention Act No. 35 of 2008 which needs to be reformed in order to execute a proper legal process in these kinds of events.

Shipowners and local authorities at fault
When X-Press Pearl made a distress call regarding a fire onboard the vessel the ship was already in Sri Lankan waters. “First and foremost, one needs to look at how this vessel entered our waters,” said Attorney-at-Law, Dr. Dan Malika Gunasekara, Legal Expert and Consultant in Ocean and Maritime Law. “I blame both the ship as well as local authorities. While the authorities say that they weren’t aware, the shipowners claim that they had informed. When a ship is having a leak and once the Captain has sighted it, his duty is to report it to the next reporting port. The owners are completely liable for bringing an unseaworthy ship to our waters. If there was a distress call, salvage operations could have been done even in the deep sea. This is a grave and serious offense. If our authorities had known about the leak, but didn’t act expeditiously after the captain and owners have disseminated information then the fault goes to our side as well. They are contributing to the negligence.” said Dr. Gunasekara.

Sinking hopes
On June 1, a team of salvors were able to board the ship and assess the possibility of towing the vessel. The same day, President Rajapaksa informed authorities to tow the ship into deeper seas. By June 2 morning the authorities warned of a water leak and that the ship is sinking possibly resulting in an oil spill. At the onset of the incident a No Fishing Zone was declared from the shore and vessels have been prevented from entering the sea from the Negombo lagoon while fishing activities from Panadura to Negombo were stopped with immediate effect. Further assistance has been sought from Indian
Coast Guard.

“Sri Lankan territorial waters lie within 12 nautical miles from the land and the ship is within this range,” said Navy Spokesman Capt. Indika De Silva. “The towing operation is done by the salvage company but two Indian vessels, SLNS Gajabahu, an Advanced Offshore Patrol Vessel and a Dora vessel is at the location. If the ship sinks there’s a possibility of an oil spill and we are ready provide an immediate response in that case. The Indian vessel is specialized in controlling marine pollution and in responding to mid-sea catastrophes.”
The Sri Lanka Air Force has deployed a Bell 212 aircraft to monitor the situation.

Given below is the link to access the full article

http://www.dailymirror.lk/news-features/Claiming-compensation-for-X-Press-Pearl-inferno-Can-the-existing-legal-framework-do-justice/131-213292

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