X-Press Pearl wreck leaking oil: Environmentalists appeal to President

Ifham Nizam – island,lk

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A group of concerned Sri Lankan environmentalists has appealed to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to intervene to stop the oil leak from the X-Press Pearl wreck.    

“We strongly believe that Your Excellency’s intervention is vital at this stage.  We hope you can access all of the relevant videos, photographs and daily reports which are in the hands of the Insurer, Caretaker Company, and Oil Response Team to understand, for yourself, the gravity of what has happened, and of the greater catastrophe that could happen, if this wreck is not made safe soon,” the team has written to the President.  

Experts are Ven. Pahiyangala Ananda Sagara Thera of Protect Sri Lanka, Ravindranath Dabare, Chairman, Centre for Environmental Justice, Hemantha Withanage Friends of Earth Chairman, who is also Senior Advisor to CEJ, Yohan Weerasuriya, Federation of Environmental Organisations, Thilak Kariyawasam- FIAN Sri Lanka and Sri Lanka Nature Group, Herman Kumara – National Convener-National Fisheries Solidarity Organisation, Vincent Bulathsinhala – Janawabodha Kendhraya, Negombo, Dilena Pathragoda – Executive Director, Centre for Environmental Justice, Chinthaka Rajapaksha- Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform, Sajeewa Chamikara- Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform and Jehan CanagaRetna– Wildlife and Nature Protection Society (WNPS).

“We see only the lethargic responses of the relevant Government agencies in taking any meaningful action. For the last one and a half months, we have received information that the oil leak has spread to Negombo. We have learned that this oil comes from the air vent connected to the oil tank which is located not far from the deck,” Attorney-At-Law Ravindranath Dabare, Chairman, CEJ, has said.

Resolve Marine, the ITOPF (the Emergency Response Team), Oil Spill Response Ltd. (OSRL) and the McLarens Group understood the seriousness of this oil leak, but they have not taken any steps to stop it, the environmentalists have pointed out.  

Ven. Pahiyangala Ananda Sagara Thera has said that the Sri Lanka Coast Guard and the Marine Environment Protection Authority(MPPA), despite being aware of the situation, has not taken any meaningful action so far.  

“According to our information, this oil leak can be prevented by merely placing a cap on the vent. The precise location of this vent could be pinpointed by placing an unmanned underwater vehicle or a simple underwater camera, or just by asking the shipping company for a plan of the ship. We are particularly alarmed as this oil leak can create long-term environmental damage to coastal habitats, especially to the coral reefs and fish populations,” Environmental Scientist Hemantha Withanage has said. 

The ship contained 81 containers of hazardous materials, and many others contained chemical products including lubricant oil, gear oil, brake fluid, lithium-ion batteries, and a number of other such goods.  

Some of these containers have heavy metals such as lead and they have the potential to destroy marine life.  

The environmentalists have informed the government that the agencies responsible for preventing the oil leak are more interested in calculating compensation instead of tackling the oil leak.  “We also agree that compensation to fishermen, and to others whose livelihoods have been affected by this accident, should be considered as a high priority, but the environmental damage must also be mitigated, they have said.

 “We do not believe that the Insurer, who seems to control every aspect of this operation, has Sri Lanka’s interests at heart.  Therefore, the government, instead of depending on the insurer, should get a local team of experts to handle the matter.  The location of the wreck is of prime importance as the Gas Terminal and Oil Terminal are in the same area. Therefore, it is important to remove this toxic wreck, and its chemical containers, as soon as possible,” Withanage has said. 

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Chandana Sesath Jayakody

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