Written by Zulfick Farzan
10 Jun, 2021 | 8:20 pm
COLOMBO (News 1st); As the X-Press Pearl disaster continues to bring unwanted global attention to Sri Lanka with reports of an oil spill, serious concerns are surrounding the events that led to the disaster.
What exactly happened on the X-Press Pearl?
The Singapore-based common carrier X-Press Feeders added the China-made X-Press Pearl to its fleet in February 2021.
Built in 2021 and sailing under the flag of Singapore, the X-Press Pearl was used for cargo transport between Singapore, Colombo, India, Qatar, and Dubai.
On the 11th of May 2021, the crew onboard the X-Press Pearl for the first time detected a Nitric Acid leak from one of the containers, while en route to the Hamad Port in Qatar from the Port of Jebel Ali in Dubai.
The X-Press Pearl had requested for the container to be discharged and re-worked at the Hamad Port, however, they were told it cannot be done due to limited personnel at the Port due to the Ramazan holidays.
It is reported that the X-Press Pearl was informed by the agents at the Hamad Port to discharge the container in question at the Hazira Port in Gujarat, India.
The X-Press Pearl had reached the Hazira Port on the 15th of May and requested to discharge the leaking container at the port.
The agent at the Hazira Port had assessed the situation after obtaining photographs and a report on the leaking container.
It is reported that the agent had informed the X-Press Pearl and the operator that discharging the container could damage the Hazira Port property.
The vessel had departed the Hazira Port on the 15th of May and the captain of the X-Press Pearl had informed the operators about the leaking container from time to time.
It is reported that the captain had informed the operator that nitric acid was leaking at a rate of 0.5 to 1.0 liter/ per hour, after leaving the Hazira Port.
In the meantime, the X-Press Pearl had changed its course towards Africa and proceeded towards Colombo to avoid a storm in the Indian Ocean region.
It is reported that during this time, the captain of the X-Press Pearl had kept the operators informed about the leaking container noting that the rate of the leakage was 0.5 liters/per hour.
As the vessel reached Sri Lankan waters, the agent for the operator of the X-Press Peal had informed the local agent via email about the leaking container.
It is reported that at around 10:37 am on the 19th of May, the captain of the X-Press Pearl in an email to the operator of the vessel had informed the need to discharge the leaking container.
This email was also copied to the local agent of the shipping company.
It is also reported that the captain of the X-Press Pearl added the local agent of the shipping company to the chain of emails that relate to the acid leaking container onboard.
At 04:57 PM on the 19th of May, the local agent for the shipping company had responded to the email noting that the Harbour Master Office was closed the would communicate the matter the following morning.
At around midnight, the X-Press Pearl had dropped anchor at the outer harbour in Colombo and several hours later the captain had radioed the Harbour Control Room about smoke emitting from the deck.
However, according to local authorities, the Sri Lankan Harbour Master was only aware of the matter at around 10:19 AM on the 20th of May, via email.
At a time when emails were sent to the local agents and messages being radioed to the Colombo Harbour, was there no opportunity to minimize the damage let alone control the situation?
Sri Lanka’s Criminal Investigations Department is currently conducting an investigation and the courts are being updated on the progress of the investigations.
However, what measures will be taken with regard to the X-Press Pearl now?
It is still uncertain as to what steps Sri Lanka will take to secure compensation for the destruction caused to its marine environment.
‘X-Press Feeders’ – the operators of the X-Press Pearl have appointed ITOPF and Oil Spill Response to work alongside Sri Lankan authorities to control marine pollution.
These ‘appointments’ have raised serious concerns as they were not made by the Sri Lankan government.
Sri Lanka’s Marine Environment is governed and administered by the Sri Lankan Agency named The ‘Marine Environment Protection Authority’, MEPA.
Shouldn’t it technically be MEPA that should decide on what companies or organizations are to be called in to support the ongoing efforts?
Yet, it appears that Sri Lanka is yet to decide on this matter.
For the disaster caused by the fire and sinking of X-Press Pearl, by accepting the appointment of ITOPF and OSRL, the Government of Sri Lanka will be presented with a situation akin to a fox guarding a henhouse.
Both ITOPF and OSRL are designed to protect the interests of shipowners and energy corporations rather than the environment and shoreline of Sri Lanka.
Board Members of Oil Spill Response Limited (OSRL) & The International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation (ITOPF) are the ship owners and insurance companies.
This is a huge cause for concern for Sri Lanka as these two bodies would work for the interests of the ship owners and companies and not in the interest of Sri Lanka, as they are appointed to this particular disaster by the owners of X-Press Pearl.
Even at this moment, Sri Lanka’s marine environment is being destroyed.
Several dead turtles and other marine life, as well as debris, washed up on Sri Lankan shores today.
It is Sri Lanka that will have to face the debilitating impact of this disaster for years to come no matter who is responsible or who benefited from this disaster.
Therefore, is it not the responsibility of us all to protect the Sea of Sri Lanka?
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