Do not allow companies to escape the world’s most catastrophic chemical ship accident

14/09/2021

Press release

It has been more than three months since the X-press Pearl caught fire. Although the plastic nurdles that appear on the surface have now been removed, the ones buried deep under the beach surface have not yet been removed. A mechanism is currently in operation to remove plastic from the Sarukkuva beach littered with plastic, and it appears that these plastic and other debris has been deposited in various layers of sand at a depth of about six to seven feet. This mechanism is currently removing micro-plastic and other toxic wastewater that arose due to the burning ship and plastic. But this process is a very slow mechanism and the coast is now heavily eroded (Pictures attached). Sea erosion causes plastic nurdles on the beach to be washed back into the sea. These nurdles and the nurdles that continue to flow from the sea are now being collected at various places along the coast up to Poruthota and Mannar (Plastic nurdles at Poruthota can be seen in the attached images). This has caused about five feet of beach erosion in the last week alone. Within the next two months, the entire Sarukkuva coast could be eroded and all the material in the area, including plastic nurdles, microplastic, would be collected back into the sea and flow along the shoreline. This would cause irreversible, serious damages to fish stocks and other marine life. If these nurdles are not collected immediately and gets accumulated in places along the coast from Beruwala to Mannar, it will be extremely difficult to collect and destroy.

As far as we know, ITOPF, which is here on behalf of P&I, an insurance company that has to spend money on this work, does not seem to expect such a complete beach clean-up. Their idea is to collect the visible plastic nurdles and portrait that the damage from the ship was minimal. This is the same course of action they took with regard to the ship oil spill in the past. According to current sources, they are making videos at sea to show that no damage has been done to the coral reefs or other sea creatures and to reduce the compensation to be paid to Sri Lanka.

Unfortunately, government institutions in Sri Lanka are currently operating to be content with anything they receive instead of seeking compensation from the insurance company through a lawsuit. This is a very sad situation. It is unfortunate that the government agencies are dealing with the insurance company and the agent, ITOPF in pleading ways. We think that this is due to the fact that research and reporting in this regard in Sri Lanka is very backward.

We therefore urge government agencies to expedite the removal of plastic debris from this beach and to immediately clean and rehabilitate the damaged beaches, including Sarukkuva, with proper technology within the next two months. Also, for the betterment of the country, do not allow the shipping company, insurance company or their agents to escape from the worst chemical ship accident in the world so far.

Under the Polluter Pays Principle we must note that this compensation must be paid by the insurance company on behalf of the shipping company and is not to be obtained on request, and that Sri Lanka and the victims are entitled to that compensation. We are also of the view that if a Sri Lankan citizen ever files a lawsuit against the insurance company for failing to do so at a time when the seas can be cleared with compensation, the relevant agencies will have to clean the beach with government funds on that day. Further, if justice is not done in Sri Lanka, we are taking steps to take legal action abroad.

As the containers on this ship are to be removed and the ship cut off within the remaining three months and Sri Lanka cannot have much influence over this ship afterwards, we urge you to seek the necessary compensation through expeditious action, expedite the necessary reports and expeditious compensation for the damages caused to the fishing community.

Yours,

Dilena Pathalagoda
Executive Director, Centre for Environmental Justice

Contact: Ranjan Karunanayake – 0717774947

Chandana Sesath Jayakody

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