M.V BBC Naples berthed at a foreign port.
Image courtesy – Brian Kushner (Maritimetraffic.com)
Sri Lankan waters safe, affirm authorities
- M.V BBC Naples has violated Sri Lanka’s Atomic Energy Act No. 40 of 2014 which requires the declaration of materials
- The Act further states no person is allowed to carry out research, develop, acquire, manufacture, transport or transfer nuclear weapons
- The matter was discussed in Parliament on Tuesday itself where Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa not only expressed his concerns, but also questioned the silence maintained by the Government
Even though Sri Lankan waters appear to be calm, geopolitically speaking, the waters are indeed getting rougher by the day. Months after a raging fire on MT New Diamond – a Panamanian crude oil tanker that caught fire on Sri Lankan waters was doused, M.V BBC Naples, a vessel carrying radioactive materials sailing under the flag of ‘Antigua and Barbados’ from Rotterdam to China made an emergency call at the Hambantota International Port on Tuesday (April 20). Upon identifying the failure to declare the cargo, Sri Lankan authorities were swift to respond to the ad hoc berthing operation and immediately requested that the vessel be removed from Sri Lankan waters. The matter was discussed in Parliament on Tuesday itself where Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa not only expressed his concerns, but also questioned the silence maintained by the Government.
Failure to declare ‘dangerous cargo’
“M.V. BBC Naples sailing under the flag of “Antigua & Barbados” entered the port of Hambantota on April 20 at 2100 hrs, while en route from Rotterdam to China,” a press release issued by the Hambantota International Port Group read. The release further stated, “The ship made an emergency call at the port for some urgent repairs. Agents for the vessel in Sri Lanka, Ms. Barwil Meridian Navigation, had not declared to the port authorities that there was dangerous cargo on board prior to the vessel entering the port.
“It was later found that they were carrying a cargo of Uranium Hexafluoride via investigations made by the Sri Lanka Navy and the Port Authority. The vessel was required to leave the port no sooner the facts were verified.
"Approval is given once the enrichment, quantity of materials and other specifications are cleared. Prior to loading the vessels, Sri Lankan authorities are informed. But we didn’t know about this ship and therefore we advised the harbour master at the HIP to remove the ship from Sri Lankan waters - SLAERC Director General Anil Ranjith"
“The SLPA, Navy, and Customs officials had approved all the necessary documentation prior to berthing of the vessel, based on the declaration made by the agent. The Navy and Customs were present at all times to ensure that there wasn’t any cargo unloaded onto the Hambantota International Port premises.”
SL Atomic Energy Act violated
Speaking to the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka Atomic Energy Regulatory Council (SLAERC) Director General Anil Ranjith said that uranium hexafluoride is a fuel used in nuclear power plants. “Approval is given once the enrichment, quantity of materials and other specifications are cleared. Prior to loading the vessels, Sri Lankan authorities are informed. But we didn’t know about this ship and therefore we advised the harbour master at the HIP to remove the ship from Sri Lankan waters,” said Ranjith.
He further said that apart from non-peaceful purposes, nuclear materials are used for peaceful purposes as well. “Our regulations have been drafted in line with peaceful purposes, but if a person is caught using radioactive materials for a non-peaceful purpose he would face 20 years of imprisonment. People need to be better informed about nuclear power plants, impacts from nuclear accidents and other issues relating to this topic. India already has four nuclear power plants while two more are being constructed. Even though the Sri Lankan territory lies 220 km away from these plants, the impacts could be experienced within a 300 km radius and beyond. Therefore we have implemented a National Nuclear Emergency Management Plan and have identified stakeholders,” he added.
"The ship has contacted Sri Lanka through their local agents, but hasn’t informed what is in the cargo. However the radioactive materials have been kept safely, according to international guidelines - Dr. Terney Pradeep Kumara, General Manager at Marine Environmental Protection Agency (MEPA)"
M.V BBC Naples has violated Sri Lanka’s Atomic Energy Act No. 40 of 2014 which requires the declaration of materials. Section 50 sub-section 1 of the Act states that notwithstanding anything contained in any other law, no approval, authority or permission shall be granted for the export from or import into Sri Lanka of any controlled item, without the prior written approval of the Council. (2) (a) An approval shall be obtained on application made to the Council for the same, in such form and on the payment of such fee, as determined by the Council. Any person who imports into or exports from Sri Lanka any controlled item in contravention of the provisions of subsection (1) shall commit an offence and on conviction after summary trial before a Magistrate, be liable, in addition to any other penalty that may be imposed for committing an offence under any other law, to a fine not exceeding five hundred thousand rupees or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or to both such fine and imprisonment.
The Act further states no person is allowed to carry out research, develop, acquire, manufacture, transport or transfer nuclear weapons. Any person who acts in contravention of these laws shall commit an offence and on conviction by the High Court, be liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding twenty years.
“We have sent them a letter requesting for reasons as to why they didn’t declare the cargo at the time the approval was being given. They have admitted that it was a mistake, but that’s not an acceptable reason. We will decide on what actions to take once we discuss with the lawyers,” he said.
Not illegal to carry dangerous cargo
Sajith Premadasa on Tuesday said in Parliament that the Navy was not allowed to inspect the vessel. While denying such claims, Navy Spokesperson Capt. Indika De Silva said that the Sri Lanka Navy is the designated authority for implementing International Ships and Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code in Sri Lanka. “As per the mandate the Navy and Sri Lanka Ports Authority instructed the ship to leave Sri Lankan waters since the radioactive materials weren’t declared. We also followed instructions given by the International Atomic Energy Agency as well.” said Capt. De Silva.
He further said that it is not illegal to carry dangerous cargo. “Once categorised as ‘dangerous cargo’ such materials could be transported. The Navy didn’t have any issue and the ship is currently docked six nautical miles away from the Hambantota Port,” Capt. De Silva added.
No threat to marine life
“The ship was berthed at the Hambantota Port following engine failure and because the seas were rough,” opined Dr. Terney Pradeep Kumara, General Manager at Marine Environmental Protection Agency (MEPA). “The ship has contacted Sri Lanka through their local agents, but hasn’t informed what is in the cargo. However the radioactive materials have been kept safely, according to international guidelines. The ship has now been taken to the outer port and is lying at around 6 nautical miles (11-12km) away from the Hambantota Port.”
When asked if the ship would pose a threat to marine life, Dr. Terney replied in the negative. “Around 350 ships travel off Dondra Head on a daily basis and these carry everything from oil to cement, fertilisers, acid and gas,” he added.