First compensate the fishermen hit by the disaster; Church urges
According to INTERPOL the burning vessel was one of two vessels roaming around the Indian Ocean carrying dangerous chemicals over the last few weeks.
The shining water that moves in the streams and rivers is not just water, but the blood of our ancestors. If we sell you our land, you must remember that it is sacred. Each glossy reflection in the clear waters of the lakes tells of events and memories in the life of my people. The water’s murmur is the voice of my father’s father. The rivers are our brothers. They quench our thirst. They carry our canoes and feed our children. So you must give the rivers the kindness that you would give any brother. – Chief Seattle
The Native American leader’s golden words proclaimed more than 170 years ago reminded and even mocked at the present Sri Lankan context where authorities are trying to assess the damage caused to the environment and planning to claim a compensation to the immeasurable and incalculable damage caused to Sri Lanka marine resources. According to the environmentalist with last week’s disaster in the sea off Western coast, we saw the extermination of marine life and vast coral reefs that were home to millions of species.
The last thing any Sri Lankan or anyone concern about environment could hear, in a doomsday prediction, a well-known environmentalist Nayanaka Ranwella has said “This could be the tragedy, the death of our sea,”.
Mr. Ranwella stated that it was not sure whether the ship was even carrying nuclear substances and what happened was the releasing of them to the sea. He said there were fears that this vessel was carrying dangerous mercury, arsenic and lead which are much more harmful than nitric acid which the authorities say was carried by the Singappore registered MV X-Press Pearl vessel. “This could be the tragedy of death of our sea,” environmentalist Mr. Ranwella warned.
He urged the Sri Lanka Ports Authority to release the documents with regard to the contents of the vessel. These documents are said to be in the hands of the Ports Authority and Mr. Ranwella wants the authorities to initiate an investigation after collecting details from Black Box of the ship.
In a dramatic and shocking revelation, Dr. Chandima Wijegunawardena, a lecturer attached to the Princess Nourah Bint Abdul Rahman University in Riyadh says that according to the International Police (INTERPOL) the burning vessel off Sri Lankan waters was not the one vessel carrying suspicious contents but there was another that was roaming around the Indian Ocean over the last few weeks.
"We just destroyed our marine resources just for compensation - Environmentalist"
“Even the International Police too was aware about these two vessels and it had given information about this to other South Asian countries like India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Our question is whether Sri Lanka was not informed about this. Those countries have been informed that there were two ships carrying poisonous oil and other dangerous chemicals. One of these two ships has been now burnt in Sri Lankan waters and has caused devastation in our sea and shore. The lecturer said that other ship which was reaching India had changed its course and was diverted to Pakistan. It is now anchored at a harbour off Karachi and it contained containers with over 15,000 barrels of mercury and extremely poisonous chemicals. A vessel that was carrying equally dangerous chemicals has come to Sri Lanka and devastated our marine resources. We are not aware whether this ship also contained mercury. Who allowed this ship to come is the biggest question we have” she questioned.
The environmentalists said there was suspicion with regard to the entire incident and whether priority was given to the lumpsum compensation which would come in dollars. Internationally renowned environmental scientist Dr. Ajantha Perera told the media that with the spilling of nitric acid, the fish in the Sri Lankan waters not only died but just disappeared without any trace. “The coral reefs that we were having for decades have just disappeared. It takes one year for three inches of a coral reef to be grown.
"So far no company or any owner had come forward to claim the ownership of anything from that ship"
“We just destroyed our marine resources just for a compensation. How our government and cabinet fell into such a poor mentality,” said Dr. Ajantha, who is the Founder of National Programme on Recycling of Solid Waste.
She also has argued that even though it was claimed that there were containers to be disembarked in Colombo Port, so far no company or any owner had come forward to claim the ownership of anything from that ship.
She also has said that it would take at least six to eight months to get a proper environmental damage assessment with regard to the magnitude of the disaster and damage caused to Sri Lankan waters.
At present the fishermen have been banned from fishing in a 80 kilometre area from the vessel. The worst ever beach pollution with tons of hazardous waste continued to wash up on the shore from the Singappore registered MV X-Press Pearl which caught fire while waiting to enter Colombo Harbour. By yesterday the waste material had come ashore and polluted it in a long stretch from Kalpitiya to Galle.
The immediate repercussion would be on more than 50,000 fishermen and their families living along the Western coastal lines. For more than two weeks the fishermen could not venture into the sea as they were warned of a possible cyclone in the Bay of Bengal and heavy rains. The community was awaiting the end of rough seas to get back to their living and the present disaster is much bigger than the cyclonic effect they experienced few days ago.
A group of Catholic priests lead by Rev. Fr. Shantha Sagara Hettiarachchi Head of the Colombo and Negombo Coastal area and Rev. Fr. Giyom Nonis, head of the Negombo Denary on the direction of the Archbishop of Colombo Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith issued a statement urging the government to provide compensation to the fishermen who have lost their livelihood on a short term and long term basis. They have said that fishermen also be made beneficiaries of whatever compensation and insurance payment paid by the ship company, or any other companies.
They also have demanded that dry rations should be provided to all the fishing families for the entire period that they are banned from fishing. The clergy have stated that instead of media circus, the government and authorities should immediately attend to the needs of the affected fishing community. The Catholic priests have also pointed out that thousands of fishermen affected by the Oil spill from the distressed MT New Diamond crude oil tanker in September last year. The government without taking any action conveniently slipped away from its responsibilities forgetting the affected fishing community. “We are suspicious that those who are responsible would follow the similar tactic in the present massive disaster as well,” the church observed.
All these issues had to be answered by those who made the blunder by allowing the ship with a nitric acid leak. According to reports the crew had been aware of this since May 11, but had not informed the Harbour authorities.
According to reports most of the cargo including 25 tons of nitric acid, sodium hydroxide, lubricants and other chemicals, are said to have been destroyed in the fire.
Another question that environmental experts like Dr. Ajantha Perea was asking is that whether the Ports authorities was unaware about the Basel Convention, a treaty that was designed to reduce the movements of hazardous waste between nations, and specifically to prevent transfer of hazardous waste from developed to developing countries. Sri Lanka is a party to the international convention.