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MV X-Press Pearl disaster: Wreck owners pull out of salvage operation

themorning.lk – By Asiri Fernando

Govt. delays cited as reasons
Salvor agents notify authorities
MEPA remains silent

A shadow of uncertainty has fallen over the MV-X-Press Pearl vessel’s salvage, with the owners of the wreck pulling out and withdrawing support for the ongoing operations, The Sunday Morning reliably learns.

According to highly-placed sources, Killiney Shipping Ltd. has written to the Government through a Singapore-based law firm, informing it that the company is withdrawing its staff and support from Sri Lanka, alleging that the Government has breached an agreement to issue all relevant clearances for the recently-floated stern section of the wreck to be removed from Sri Lanka by 27 January.

The withdrawal of Killiney Shipping, which had hired the salvor (Shanghai Salvage Company Ltd.), raises concerns about the impact it may have on the insurance claims that Sri Lanka may pursue regarding the MV X-Press Pearl incident, which local environmental authorities have labelled the biggest man-made maritime disaster in Sri Lanka.

When contacted, Merchant Shipping Director General Ajith Wijesinghe confirmed that the owner of the wreck had withdrawn from supporting the salvage operation and had done so through a written communiqué. However, Wijesinghe would not discuss details regarding the matter.

It is understood that the local agent for the Shanghai Salvage Company had communicated to the relevant local authorities, requesting them to provide relevant clearance documents for the raised section of the wreck to be removed from Sri Lankan waters, in accordance with the agreed timeline.

Salvage operations of this magnitude that require specialist equipment such as semi-submersible vessels, which the stern section of the wreck is now floated on, are time-bound, costly, and weather sensitive, requiring all parties to work in close cooperation and with precision.

The letter sent by the owner’s legal firm dated 30 January (which The Sunday Morning has seen) states that while the Marine Environment Protection Agency (MEPA) has issued some of the required clearance for the salvors to remove the wreck section by 27 January, a subsequent telephone conversation between State Minister of Urban Development and Housing Arundika Fernando and the salvors has made the wreck removal conditional to obtaining a Customs export licence, causing the agreed deadline to be breached.

Attempts to contact the State Minister regarding the matter and the future status of the salvage operation failed.

According to Sri Lanka Customs Director General Sarath Nonis, since the wreck is going to be removed from Sri Lankan waters, it may require an export licence and the submission of Customs documents to do so. However, he would not comment on the matter further and requested The Sunday Morning to consult the Urban Development and Housing Ministry or MEPA.

When The Sunday Morning contacted MEPA Chairperson Dharshani Lahandapura regarding the wreck owner withdrawing support, Lahandapura declined to comment, stating that the answers should be sought from the Attorney General’s office.

When The Sunday Morning contacted Additional Solicitor General Vikum de Abrew regarding the matter, he was not aware of such a notification by the owner and added that he would endeavour to look into the matter this week.

News Source

Chandana Sesath Jayakody

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