There are plenty of allegations made that X-Press Pearl was purposely sunk to claim compensation
The fire-stricken container ship X-Press Pearl, which has sunk within the territorial waters of Sri Lanka, has become a hot topic ever since the disaster took place. Several parties opine that the Sri Lanka Ports authority has purposely allowed the ship to enter Port of Colombo. It is already revealed that the ship had contained 25 tons of toxic substances in 81 containers.
Sri Lanka’s port authorities have confirmed that X-Press Pearl had entered ports in Qatar and India. However, Hamad Port in Qatar and Hazira Port in India had been unwilling to repair the alleged nitric acid leakage in that ship. Many parties allege that the ship could not have entered Port of Colombo without informing the port authorities of the leakage. Critics underscore that the ship was allowed entry because the authorities were eyeing for compensation. They also allege that the ship was later made to sink. These allegations have to be taken into consideration.
This environmental destruction could have been prevented, had NARA, Atomic Energy Board, Department of Coast Conservation been informed
Ven. Pahiangala Thera
Surakimu Lanka Organisation Chairman and Environmentalist Pahiyangala Ananda Sagara Thera commenting on the disaster said that it isn’t possible that the Port Authority was unaware of a chemical leakage from the ship. “They could have informed the necessary parties to provide solutions, or they could have not allowed the ship to enter our sea.
“This environmental destruction could have been prevented, had NARA, Atomic Energy Board, Department of Coast Conservation been informed of the impending disaster. Instead, the port authorities allowed the ship to enter the Sri Lankan waters following the normal procedure. Prior to entering a port, a ship should inform the relevant authorities of its containers and pay advances. It normally provides a list of the containers with separate details on chemical substances. If the authority had focused on these chemical substances, they would have learnt of them. Allowing the ship to enter the port without paying attention to the containers was a serious issue. According to the port authorities the captain of the ship has not informed the port about the containers. The company that owns the ship or its Sri Lankan representatives or the ports in Qatar and India have not allegedly informed the Sri Lankan port authorities, which is also a serious issue.
According to the details we suspect, a large scale scam is associated with this accident. Two days after the shipping company issued a statement that the ship wouldn’t sink even if it catches fire but the ship sank. An international company named SMIT Salvage boards the ship after the fire has been extinguished to get an estimation. That is the same company which got an estimation for New Diamond ship which caught fire in September 2020 in the eastern coast. They did not pay the full compensation. We do not know what became of the 2.2 million rupees that was received. 20 million rupees is yet to be received. The ship hasn’t yet paid for the damage it has caused to the sea. They have only paid the cost incurred for the dousing of the fire.
The local agent had destroyed that email and while concealing this information regarding the impending danger it had requested from the ports authority permission for the vessel to enter Sri Lankan waters
The same company has been entrusted with the task of making estimation reports. The ship has sunk despite claims being made that it wouldn’t sink. A ship entered the port without the authorities being informed. This is like a drama. I wonder whether Sri Lanka has turned out to be a place where ships are destroyed and sunk. All that is seemed to have done merely to receive a compensation which amounts to billions in our currency. There must also be an explanation about what became of the compensation received from the New Diamond, whether the whole amount was received, or only half was received. We suspect whether the same will happen with regard to this ship. The impact on coral reefs, fishermen and the tourism industry has not been taken in to consideration in greed of the billions that’ll be received as compensation.” the Thera said.
Sri Lanka has turned out to be a place where ships are destroyed and sunk
Environmentalist/Journalist Nayanaka Ranwella, who worked together with the authorities to find out about the environmental destructions caused after the ship caught fire, alleged that the ship has been set on fire on purpose. “The Sri Lankan coastal area will not recover for 20 more years. If the ship had been stationed in international waters and facilities had been provided this would not have happened. Either this ship has entered our port without informing the port authority of the real situation or the authorities have allowed entry while being aware of the situation. The details needed for investigations could be provided if one studies the VDR Box (Voice Date Recover) of the ship. We pose the question whether the ship was sunk to destroy the VDR Box and we raised questions regarding this from the authorities. However Navy personnel have discovered the VDR box and given it to the CID. We request the CID to publicise its details and let the people know the truth.
Checking the VDR Box is the only way to prove that they are guilty. We also learned that the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance is used to seek compensations
“When the ship was on fire we requested the authorities to take the ship to the deep sea, but they laughed at us for our ignorance. In the end they tried to do what we proposed. This destruction could have been prevented had the ship been taken to the deep sea. Sri Lanka does not possess the equipment needed to douse a fire in a ship. India doused the fire using chemical liquids while the Air Force sprayed Dry Chemical Powder (DCP). At the end the ship was filled with water and sank. The entire incident is questionable. According to available details, taking the sea into deep seas was delayed as the authorities waited for a Canadian ship to drag the ship. These incidents have to be probed. It was after that ship arrived that the fire-stricken ship was dragged. By that time the ship was already submerged. To drag the ship, a ship with 14 times the engine capacity of the affected ship is required. Two ships of the ship company, three Indian ships and ships of the Naval Force and the Ports Authority had been used to drag the vessel.
“It takes much money to destroy a ship after it has caught fire. Therefore we suspect that the company that owns the ship also made sure to sink the ship and obtain insurance. After a ship has been built it is insured with several insurance companies. If one company is to pay compensation in an instance like this the company is likely to go bankrupt and so is the company that owns the ship.
It looks like Sri Lanka has become a place where ships are sunk. There might be more such incidents orchestrated in greed for compensation. The destroyed coastal area has no fish at present. Fishermen have not caught a single fish in the usual areas they fish. It is believed that small fish in the zone have died and are buried in the seabed. The large fish may have evacuated the zone.
“The Sri Lankan representative company of X-Press Feeders is Sea Consortium Lanka Pvt Ltd and is headed by Arjuna Hettiarachchi. Checking the VDR Box is the only way to sort this out. We also learned that the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance is used to seek compensations. If so, it is not the company that owns the ship that has to pay compensation, but it is us who will have to pay compensation. We informed the AG through the Bar Association. But when observing the legal procedure, it appears that the same thing that happened with MT New Diamond might be repeated” added Ranwella.
Professor Chandima Wijegunawardena said that Nitrogen Nitrate and Ammonia Nitrate are used to produce fertilizer. “The truth behind this incident should be revealed in a background where chemical fertilizer is banned in Sri Lanka. If these chemicals are not used in fertilizer manufacturing, it would be used to make explosives.
According to international laws when transporting explosives or chemicals harmful to humans and the environment ships cannot enter countries without permission. X-Press Pearl has violated these laws and legal actions should be taken against the company that owns the vessel.” said Prof. Wijegunawardena.
Environmentalist, Professor Ajantha Perera said that compensations would never fix the destruction. “We got into this as our authorities are weak in taking decisions. If compensations cannot be obtained from the company that owns the ship, the Government of Sri Lanka will have to pay compensation to everyone affected.” said Prof. Perera.
The truth behind this incident should be revealed in a background where chemical fertilizer is banned in Sri Lanka. ships cannot enter countries without permission
It is also reported that Deputy Solicitor General Madhawa Tennakoon, who appeared for the Attorney General, had informed Colombo Additional Magistrate Shalani Perera that the local agent for E-Press Pearl was informed via email of the chemical leak in the ship and the potential it had to catch fire. But the local agent had destroyed that email and while concealing this information regarding the impending danger it had requested from the ports authority permission for the vessel to enter Sri Lankan waters.
Marine Environment Protection Authority Chairman Attorney-at-law Darshani Lahandapura said that the first step towards seeking compensations has been taken. “The necessary documents have been sent to the company that owns the ship and insurance companies. Compensation would be obtained in future for the impact on tourism, fishery, and environment. We are making estimations through a special committee. We will speed up these processes once we get the report.
We got into this as our authorities are weak in taking decisions. If compensations cannot be obtained from the company that owns the ship, the Govt. will have to pay compensation
Prof Ajantha Perera
“We did not demand compensation under the Fauna and Flora Ordinance, but under the Act on Marine Pollution Prevention. We can obtain compensation for the damage caused to the marine environment under that Act. The Department of Wild Life and Conservation and the NARA can seek compensations under their respective Acts. “Salvencher Company which made the estimation regarding New Diamond is also in charge of making the estimation regarding X-Press Pearl. It was not us, but the company that owns the ship which recommended that company. A ship values a lot and Salvencher is one of the best salvage companies in the world and I do not know the reason why it has been chosen.
Strik Salvencher which boarded X-Press Pearl to provide an estimation is the same company which did an estimation for New Diamond which caught fire in Sri Lanka in 2020
We have sent the necessary documents to insurance companies after four months and they have replied that they would consider. We are on the lookout.
“New Diamond ship company did not escape without paying compensation. The company cannot take the ship unless permitted by the government. 442 billion rupees was to be obtained from that company as our cost. Investigations revealed that the accident occurred due to the carelessness of the Captain and we filed a case and the Government could obtain an additional 12 million rupees. That amount was charged to the Consolidated Fund. The ship was released after regional banks confirmed the receipt of payment.
Critics point our that these chemicals brought in the vessel would have been used to make explosives if not used in fertilizer manufacturing
“We still have to receive compensation for the damage caused to the sea and it can be received up to three years. We have sent the necessary documents to insurance companies after four months and they have replied that they would consider. We are on the lookout. I have no details regarding fish killed due to the X-Press Pearl accident. I would look into that and it is not true that this compensation cannot be sought. The company that owns the ship company promised compensation. I cannot respond to accusations that the compensation would not be received due to external influences as I have no understating on that area,” said Lahandapura.
Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) Chairman General Daya Rathnayaka said that officials of X-Press Pearl had not informed of the chemical leak till the vessel entered the waters close to the Port of Colombo. When the Daily Mirror asked Gen. Rathnayake to further elaborate on the incident he said that the ship had sunk in international waters and not in the harbour mouth or the lane where anchors are places. “The ship has sunk in one place where anchors are placed and that is not an obstacle to the operations of Port of Colombo or the sailing of ships. There cannot be ship accidents given the present situation.
I am also unaware that the same company which made the estimation regarding New Diamond obtained estimation reports of this ship. The Commercial Trade Division and the ship company have that responsibility
“The Ports Authority does not have to get compensation, but obtain money chargeable as advances for containers prior to the entry of a ship. X-Press Pearl did not inform of the danger the ship was in which increased the chances for the accident. One boat is used to drag the ship, but there were other ships for support including three Indian boats, two Navy boats, three boats of the company that owns the ship and I do not know whether there was a ship of another company.
“I am also unaware that the same company which made the estimation regarding New Diamond obtained estimation reports of this ship. The Commercial Trade Division and the ship company have that responsibility. The relevant parties have taken necessary steps to seek compensation. We can take legal action against the company that owns the ship, if it fails to pay compensation.
“We inquired from the Assistant Director General (Operations) of Sea Consortium Lanka Pvt Ltd whether the ship had informed the authorities about the leakage and the containers. He said that the Ports Authority was informed of all these details. As there is an ongoing CID investigation, those details cannot be given to the media,” he added.
Ministers were not available
Efforts made to contact the Minister of Ports and Shipping Rohitha Abeygunawardena, and the State Minister of Urban Development, Coastal Conservation, Waste Disposal and Public Sanitation, Nalaka Godahewa proved futile.