- According to Dr. Perera, it is speculated that the compensation is being obtained not in dollars, but in rupees
- Around 475 turtles, 5 whales, 47 dolphins and many small fish died following the X-Press Pearl accident
- 25 tons of nitric acid, 1486 containers of sulfur, 439 containers with LDPE and HDPE plastic pellets which sank with the ship
- Sarakkuwa beach was one location where the pollution was at its highest
It has been a year and five months since the vessel X-Press Pearl caught fire and sank. What the islanders are left with is the massive ocean and coastal pollution which resulted from the accident involving the vessel. Receiving compensation is unlikely to happen due to the mistakes committed by Sri Lankan authorities. According to several environmentalists the institutions handling the compensation process are now operating in a manner in which they have encountered a problem.
This compensation is important in terms of being helpful to a country like Sri Lanka which is experiencing a severe economic crisis. If Sri Lanka can get more than six billion US$ in compensation for the damage caused by X-Press Pearl, the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) might not need the IMF loan. There will be no need to beg from other countries. If so, the authorities work towards obtaining the compensation. According to Environmentalist Nayanaka Ranwella no such step has been taken yet. “In addition the task of recovering the vessel has been given to a Chinese company when there are world-renowned companies that are qualified for such assignments. This is a dangerous move. Chemical containers of the vessel are scattered covering a vast area of the sea. If they get destroyed in the process of recovery it would have a huge impact on the sea,” explained Ranwella. According to him there are details of a plan to swindle the compensation monies; not forgetting that there are several powerful people behind that.
When the vessel first caught fire there was ample opportunity to drag the vessel away from the Sri Lankan coastal strip. The spokesperson of the Sri Lanka Ports Authority said that instead of allowing it to be dragged away, a certain powerful person made sure to sink the ship within the Sri Lankan coast. “I heard that he boarded the ship at the moment the fire started to meet with the officers. We need to find out if paying the compensation was delayed because of his intervention. Sri Lanka should receive compensation worth 6 billion US$, but it should be investigated as to whether the said person is the reason why the compensation was not received.” he added.
The task of recovering the vessel has been given to a Chinese company when there are world-renowned companies that are qualified for such assignments. This is a dangerous move. Chemical containers of the vessel are scattered covering a vast area of the sea. If they get destroyed in the process of recovery it would have a huge impact on the sea
– Nayanaka Ranwella Environmentalist
Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA) Chairman Darshani Lahandapura said earlier that Sri Lanka can apply for compensation within two years. “If so, now the concerned parties should report the extent of the damage to the vessel company and its insurance company and obtain the compensation as soon as possible. Presently that is not happening,” said Ranwella. “Some people seem to be working to undermine the damage caused to our environment, marine life, fishing or tourism sector. There is a risk of not receiving the compensation of 6 billion US$ for the environmental damage caused by the X-Press Pearl,” opined Ranwella.
The media reported on a decision taken by state authorities to halt the operations of a machine designed by a new inventor to clean the Sarakkuwa beach, where the pollution was at its highest. The machine has been able to separate pollutants in around seven layers. The machine could separate mostly plastic pellets in the size of lentil flakes, solid plastic or chemical mixed pellets hidden on the beach, microplastics, and liquids with acid and pollutants. With this, it was possible to see the pollutants of the burnt ship clearly. This programme was carried out under the supervision of MEPA. The Government had a great opportunity to reveal to the vessel company or the insurance company the extent of the destruction caused by the polluting agents. These pollutants could be used during the compensation process after conducting further studies in institutions like the Industrial Technology Institute and NARA, but MEPA made a request to cease the operations of the machine. The media also reported on this.
Neither we nor anyone wants to cover up the damage caused by the ship. We will not allow that to happen. At present, efforts are being made to compensate for the damage caused by the ship. An expert committee has been appointed to investigate on this matter
– Darshani Lahandapura Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA) Chairman
After the incident the registration company and the transport company of the X-Press Pearl completely withdrew from the compensation process. Only the International Tank Owner Pollution Federation (ITOPF) is presently handling the compensation with the vessels’ insurance company named P&I.
When inquired about this earlier MEPA Chairman Darshani Lahandapura said the following. “Neither we nor anyone wants to cover up the damage caused by the ship. We will not allow that to happen. At present, efforts are being made to compensate for the damage caused by the ship. An expert committee has been appointed to investigate on this matter. About 40 people work in this committee under various subjects. We should apply for insurance compensation. We are working on that,”
According to her, the ITOPF or the “P&I” insurance company are not working to cover up the compensation process of the ship.
Commenting on this, Environmental Impact Assessment specialist and Environmental Scientist Dr. Ajantha Perera said that around 475 turtles, 5 whales, 47 dolphins and many small fish died following the X-Press Pearl accident. “In addition, coral reefs were destroyed. About 75 million plastic beads ended up in the sea. The consumption of fish by children decreased as a lot of small fish died. It is also one of the causes of malnutrition. Fishermen lost their jobs. The entire community collapsed. Marine life is still affected by the vessel’s chemicals. There are 25 tons of nitric acid, 1486 containers of sulfur, 439 containers with LDPE and HDPE plastic pellets which sank with the ship. In addition, toxins including iron, aluminum, urea, sodium monoxide, and copper were mixed into the sea. According to that, the amount of toxic chemicals added to the sea from the vessel is about 29,000 metric tons. Regarding this we can obtain compensation amounting to 6 billion US$ and not millions. But we have been paid compensation amounting to 3.8 million US$. It is an interim payment. 2.5 million was spent on cleaning the beach and as damage assessment expenses to receive compensation. The representatives of the vessel company said that they have paid about 1 billion US$ on seven occasions. Who was given that amount? Who obtained that?” she queried. According to Dr. Perera no one knows what happened to that money.
“About 75 million plastic beads ended up in the sea. The consumption of fish by children decreased as a lot of small fish died. It is also one of the causes of malnutrition. Fishermen lost their jobs. The entire community collapsed. Marine life is still affected by the vessel’s chemicals”
– Dr. Ajantha Perera Environmental Scientist
Presently obtaining the compensation for the destruction caused to Sri Lanka’s coastline and environment has become a challenge as some people are trying to embezzle the compensation; which is about six billion US$. According to Dr. Perera, it is speculated that the compensation is being obtained not in dollars, but in rupees. There were talks doing the rounds that some people had made deals with the vessel’s representatives before the ship caught fire and sank. “I don’t know if the MEPA provided the documents to obtain compensation. When inquiries were made, they did not give a proper answer. As far as we know, the authorities have been continuously negotiating with the vessel company. In the legal proceedings, the vessel company has obtained legal assistance from Sri Lankan lawyers. The vessel company is maybe trying to give the Government a reduced amount as compensation and distribute another sum as commission. Then we will not obtain the due amount. This compensation will help us greatly to solve the country’s economic problem. Furthermore the carcasses of turtles are still kept in laboratories without any examination being done and most of the evidence might get destroyed,” she added.
The Daily Mirror made attempts to speak to Ms.Lahandapura to find out about all these matters. The newspaper came to know that she was abroad. Therefore she made a request to send a text message about the matters to be discussed. This writer sent a text message in this regard, but there was no response from her at the time of going to press.
The picture shows efforts being taken to clear debris including micro plastics washed ashore