SL divided in fighting X-Press Pearl disaster case



Saman Indrajith

The evaluation of the long-term damage caused by the MV X-Press Pearl disaster has come to a standstill as the members of the committee that estimates the damage had not been given the letters of appointment for 2023, SJB MP Ajith Mannapperuma told Parliament yesterday (21), presenting the report on MV X-Press Pearl of the Sectoral Oversight Committee on Environment, Natural Resources & Sustainable Development.

MP Mannapperuma said that by November 2021, the damage caused by the MV X-Press Pearl had been estimated at 6.5 billion U.S dollars.

“However, the Sectoral Oversight Committee on Environment, Natural Resources & Sustainable Development believes that the damage should be calculated for five years,” he said.

The government had undertaken to refund money spent on investigations, the SJB MP said. “But those in charge of estimates, and testing, are worried that they might never get reimbursed if they spend money out of pocket. The Marine Environment Protection Authority and the Attorney General’s Department also didn’t have the best relations. There are hardly any discussions and this has had a negative impact,” MP Mannapperuma said.

On September 2020, MT New Diamond caught fire off the western coast of Sri Lanka but a Lessons Learnt Committee was not appointed, he said. MP Mannapperuma said that this was a major error on the part of the then government.

“We didn’t have a proper procedure. The Sectoral Oversight Committee recommends that the government appoints a Lessons Learnt Committee on MT New Diamond and MV X-Press Pearl disasters and come up with a standard operating procedure (SOP) on how to handle such disasters. We have not signed a number of international treaties. For example, annex six of the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL). We have not signed the Nairobi International Convention on the Removal of Wrecks. We need to sign these conventions,” he said.

MP Mannapperuma said that a number of institutions must work together when dealing with such situations. However, during the MV X-Press Pearl disaster some institutions tried to dictate terms to others, he said. “So we need to establish a strong institution like a presidential commission that could link and direct these institutions,” he said.

Opposition leader Sajith Premadasa said that all estimates on the damage caused by MV X-Press Pearl was on the area between Negombo and Panadura. “However, the damage is not limited to this areas. A few days ago, some grease and plastic pellets were found in Puttalam. People think these are from the same ship. I suggest you get the Minister of Environment also involved. MEPA, Ministry of Environment and AG’s Department must all work together. I also suggest we expand the scope of the estimates of the disaster,” he said.