X-Press Pearl debris to be moved, while many questions remain unanswered

X-Press Pearl debris to be moved, while many questions remain unanswered

X-Press Pearl debris to be moved, while many questions remain unanswered

Written by Zulfick Farzan

09 Jun, 2021 | 7:13 pm

COLOMBO (News 1st); Sri Lanka has decided to move all the debris collected following the X-Press Pearl disaster to a large storage facility.

Chairman of Sri Lanka’s Central Environment Authority S. Samarasinghe told News 1st on Wednesday (09) that the decision was taken considering the quantity of debris that is washed up on the island’s coast daily.

At present, the debris collected from the beaches along the west coast is placed at a private facility in Wattala.

The CEA confirmed that 823 containers from a total of 1,486 contained polythene and plastics.

“The debris collected from the beaches can be filled into 10 containers and we can confirm that there were 41 containers on board filled with bags,” he told News 1st.

Sri Lankan authorities told News 1st that there is no confirmed report of an oil leak or spill from the X-Press Pearl wreck and that the situation is being closely monitored.

“We cannot confirm anything related to an oil leak,” said Sri Lankan State Minister Dr. Nalaka Godahewa adding the relevant agencies are prepared to face any situation.

The Chairman of the Marine Environment Protection Authority in Sri Lanka, Attorney-at-Law Darshani Lahandapura said the owners have appointed two foreign bodies to assist in the operation and MEPA had sought the technology from them to clean the ocean bed and explore the ocean area as well.

Ashore representatives of ITOPF and Oil Spill Response are monitoring updates from the scene and remain on standby to be deployed in case of any reported spill, said X-Press Feeder, the operators of the X-Press Pearl adding they are coordinating with MEPA and the Sri Lankan Navy on an established plan to deal with any possible spill of oil and other pollutants.

The ship’s aft portion remains on the seabed at a depth of about 21 meters, and the forward section remains afloat and is reported as stable.

A marine chemist continues to take readings of the air around the vessel and test water samples to ensure the site’s safety.

The salvors remain on scene to deal with any possible debris supported by the Sri Lankan Navy and the Indian Coast Guard, who have oil spill response capabilities on standby.

Sri Lanka’s Marine Environment Protection Authority has told the vessel owners to ensure the containers at the bottom of the sea are salvaged and brought ashore for inspection, said the CEA Chairman adding that the owners are yet to do so despite saying they have commenced an operation.

Though local and international agencies claim to be working on preventing an oil spill and engaging in operations related to the wreck, many questions remain unanswered.

Did the X-Press Pearl conceal the true situation on board about the acid leak when reaching Sri Lankan waters?

According to reports, it is clear that the X-Press Pearl had left the Port of Jebel Ali in the UAE on the 10th of May 2021 at 03:00 PM local time. It is evident that the vessel and related parties were aware of the onboard leak.

When the operators had requested to discharge the leaking container at the Hazira Port in India, the Indian operators had noted that the leak was serious and discharging the container could even cause damage to port property.

Therefore, didn’t the vessel proceed towards Sri Lanka on the 15th of May with a threat onboard?

Weren’t Sri Lanka authorities informed about this onboard threat over the leaking container?

Can one simply assume that the shipping agent at the Hazira Port had failed to inform the agent in Sri Lanka about the acid leaking container, even if the captain of the vessel did not inform Sri Lanka about it?

If the captain of the X-Press Pearl had informed the local shipping agent about the onboard situation, why didn’t he pass the information to the Sri Lankan Harbour Master?

The Hazira Port raised the red flag over the leaking container by observing photographs of the container in question. Therefore, can one assume that the Sri Lankan authorities were simply left in the dark about such a serious issue?

Interestingly, why did Sri Lanka’s Minister of Ports and Shipping get involved?

Activists have alleged that the local shipping agent was well aware of the onboard situation as it is clear that the master of the vessel had emailed the local agent about the situation.

Wasantha Samarasinghe, an activist in Sri Lanka said the local agent was informed on the night of the 19th of May 2021 about the situation as there was smoke coming from the vessels’ cargo hold.

He questioned why Sri Lanka’s Harbour Master was not kept in the loop about the matter and slammed the Sri Lankan Minister of Ports and Shipping for his premature celebration claiming that the fire was doused.

The X-Press Pearl is considered Sri Lanka’s worst maritime disaster and it has seriously affected marine life in the sea of Sri Lanka.

Concerns have also been raised about the role of the Sri Lankan government in making claims and appointing its representatives to clean up the ocean floor, despite representatives being appointed by the vessel operators for this purpose.

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