The damn dump: Who did it?
By Chris Kamalendran and Hisham Hilaly

Port and Ministry face storm
The Ports Ministry and the Ports Authority have come under heavy criticism from government and opposition politicians for their role in the current container controversy.
Environment Minister Rukman Senanayake took strong action and summoned a Parliamentary Select Committee meeting to discuss allegations that the Ports Authority had not taken necessary precautions before allowing the containers to be removed to a private container yard at Sedawatte.

The Minister said he would get Cabinet approval for a full scale probe as to why the ship was allowed to unload the dangerous or dubious cargo in the Colombo Port, what really happened on the ship, why the containers were removed to Sedawatte and other questions.

Is Sri Lanka being turned into a dumping ground for possible toxic waste material and is someone at the Colombo Port taking dirty money to pollute the country? These questions arise in the aftermath of a controversy if not scandal over some 183 containers which were dumped in the Colombo Port by a dubious ship.

Adding to the scandal the containers allegedly containing pesticide waste were suddenly moved out of the port without proper envirenmental safeguards and stored in a terminal at Sedawatte in Grandpass. Amidst a howl of protests from residents who complained that children were falling sick, a court ordered that the containers be removed from Sedawatte immediately and be taken back to the port.

But more than 48 hours after the court order the controversial containers are still at Sedawatte and none seems to be sure as to what the hell is happening.

As The Sunday Times invetigators visited the scene at Sedawatte a strong smell emanated from the container yard a few kilometers away from Colombo. Some of the children living around the area had been hospitalized after they showed signs of vomiting and headaches. This was one of the signs that some of the contaminated containers from the Colombo port had leaked out before proper examinations had been carried out on a controversial load of containers which had been unloaded at the Colombo port after the vessel had reported a fire and sought permission to call over at the port.

The first distress signal came from the ship, LT Grant, an Italian registered vessel on its way from China to Iran on February 13. They reported that the ship had developed a fire. The following day the ship was inspected by the Insurance agent and thereafter permission had been sought to call over at the Colombo Port.

After subsequent inspections by the Harbour Master and the Fire Brigade the ship was allowed into the Port and it was detected that no fire had taken place, but a strong smell was emanating from the containers. Some of them had burn marks. Permission had been sought to unload some of the containers which were believed to have been burnt.

This has raised many questions about the permission granted to unload these containers and whether some of those contaminated containers were carrying pesticide waste. Some port workers say they were aware of moves to remove the contaminated cargo as well as political influence to get the containers removed to the container yard in Sedawatte.

The containers had begun to move out from the Colombo Port before an inspection was carried out whether the cargo contained any environmentally hazardous items.
The Central Environmental Authority (CEA), reportedly was not informed and moved got into action almost a week after the controversial containers were out of the Colombo port, ignoring the possible health hazards.

It was the local police who first moved into action after the residents complained that children were falling ill, some of them vomiting, suffering from severe headaches and skin irritations. The residents said a strong smell was emanating from the adjoining container yard.

Police last Monday filed action in the Colombo Magistrates court and the court ordered that some 184 containers removed from the Colombo port and stored at the container yard at Sedawatte be sent back to the port. But until Friday the containers had not been sent back.

On Friday moves were underway to take away the contaminated containers to an undisclosed location and chemically treat them. But the controversy as to how the contaminated containers were removed from the Colombo port without proper environmental precautions has not been cleared.

Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) Vice Chairman, M.H.M.Salman said they were probing how the containers were removed from the harbour to a container terminal outside the harbour. Mr. Salman however defended the decision of the Port to allow the vessel to come in. The Environmental Foundation Ltd, an environmental NGO was the other group which has taken up the issue and filed action in Courts.

Colombo's Additional Magistrate A.S.Gamlatharachchi who heard the case said the court had to intervene as there were signs that the containers were causing an environmental hazard. The court has ordered a full investigation on the containers and directed the CEA, Government Analyst and the Atomic Energy Authority to report back to courts on Tuesday as to whether the containers contained contaminated waste and whether they were toxic.

Though the Ports Ministry appeared to be down playing the incident, the Ministry of Environmental Affairs is taking a strong stand. On Friday Environmental Minister Rukman Senanayake called a Select Committe meeting in Parliament to discuss the issue with CEA, Ports Authority and Cutoms officials. (See Separate story)
The exact contents of the containers are yet unknown though the Ports Ministry claims they contained Oxime Carbamate.

Green ghosts at Akuressa mini polls

From Nalaka Nonis in Akuressa
With just a week away for the Akuressa mini elections, the campaign is hotting up amidst allegations of malpractices, including the entry of shadow candidates.
With the UNF nomination list being rejected, the battle for the 21-seat Pradeshiya Sabha is among the PA, the JVP and the Sinhalaye Mahasammatha Boomiputhra Party.

The PA and the JVP, which at national level are holding talks for the formation of an alliance, allege that the UNF leadership in the Matara District was carrying out a vigorous campaign on behalf of the Sinhalaye Mahasammatha Boomiputhra Party which was contesting on an airplane symbol, though the UNP has said it will support any party that advocates a peaceful solution to the country's ethnic crisis.

JVP parliamentarian Jinadasa Kithulegoda said that in some cases instead of listed candidates of the Boomiputhra Party, "unofficial UNF candidates" whose nominations were rejected, were campaigning for the election, indicating there was a deal between the two parties after the elections. He said the JVP had lodged a complaint with the Elections Commissioner and the Inspector General of Police in this regard.

His views were supported by Southern Province Chief Minister H.G. Sirisena who charged that certain powerful ministers from the area were behind the drama. When we visited the area we saw several posters in green with the symbol "Plane". The names and pictures of the candidates are not on the official list of the Bhumiputra party.

If they are not from the Bhumiputra party, who are they? We asked this question from Boomiputhra Party leader Harischandra Wijetunga. He said there was no secret agreement between his party and the UNP. He said the posters were the work of opponents of the Bhumiputra party who wanted to thwart his party's success at next week's elections.

Akuressa Police said the situation was peaceful and only two election-related complaints had been reported to the police. The complaints were made by the JVP. One of the complaints was about a UNPer campaigning for himself under the Bhumiputra banner though he is not an official candidate. Interestingly national politics is not playing a big role in this election. It is the local problems such as the water crisis, roads and underdevelopment of the area that dominate the campaign trail.

Meanwhile, PA Chief Minister Sirisena, said his party's main rival at the elections was the JVP. He said that although at national level, the two parties were holding talks to form an alliance, at the Pradeshiya Sabha level they were rivals. Mr. Sirisena said that the PA was considering this election as a crucial one as it would give an indication of the public feeling on various issues. Akuressa inspector Mahesh Kumara said that maximum security would be provided for the 42 polling booths.

Night-club a nightmare for these residents
By Tania Fernando
Despite complaints to police and other authorities on the noise from a nightclub in a residential area, little or no action has been taken against the nightclub. The club at Duplication Road, Bambalapitiya, shares a common wall with a residence. A resident said it impossible for them to even watch TV in their living rooms, as the noise from the nightclub was so loud and that they found it hard to have a peaceful night.

"I have made complaints to the police, the Environmental Authority and the Municipal Council. Once a Police team came and ordered the night club to reduce the noise, but after the police left the owner and the manager of the nightclub, came to my residence and told me they won't stop it," the resident said.

Bambalapitiya Police said they had warned the nightclub owners not to disturb the residents but it was the CEA that had to take legal action in such matters. A CEA official said they had jurisdiction only over industrial areas and not residential areas.
The Colombo Municipality's Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Pradeep Kariyawasam, said the CMC could take legal action if at least three residents made an official complaint.

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