In its desperate quest to chase after every possible dollar on offer, are the authorities inviting disaster after disaster into the country is the question on many a lip. A few months ago, in the midst of a pandemic it was inviting Ukrainian tourists. More recently, Indian workers transiting. Now, a stricken ship. An environmental [...]


Courting disaster, with no proper plan to handle it


In its desperate quest to chase after every possible dollar on offer, are the authorities inviting disaster after disaster into the country is the question on many a lip. A few months ago, in the midst of a pandemic it was inviting Ukrainian tourists. More recently, Indian workers transiting. Now, a stricken ship.

An environmental and economic catastrophe, the worst of its kind as they say, has occurred by the fire and the consequent sinking of the ‘X-Press Pearl’ outside the Colombo harbour. The vessel’s owners issued a statement to say that the ship applied to the western Indian port of Hazira and the Qatari port of Hamand to offload a leaking container of nitric acid, but the requests were denied. The response given was there were no special facilities or expertise immediately available to deal with the leaking acid. The company complained that those ports took the attitude; “not in our backyard”. And the ship continued its journey merrily towards Colombo.

The multimillion dollar questions are 1) did the ship’s captain deliberately withhold information of the leak from Sri Lankan authorities (before the fire occurred when the ship was already in Sri Lankan waters) and 2) if so, did the Sri Lanka Ports Authority take matters concerning dangerous cargo on board too lightly. Post-mortems are in progress but one thing is crystal clear, the Sri Lankan authorities failed to prevent the disaster of this magnitude at its very door-step.

The livelihoods of thousands of fishermen have been ruined in the meantime. So have been the pristine beaches on the western coastline — grievously damaged together with the marine and coral life in the waters. Millions of plastic pellets have littered the beaches. Water resources scientists speak of the potential of acid rain when nitric acid is mixed with seawater.

Post-mortems, for which the Sri Lankan authorities seem to have an appetite after ignoring looming disasters, show multiple agencies working without one command structure. In this instance, there is now even the question of whether dousing the fire on board by pouring water on nitric acid only aggravated the situation due to the chemical reaction from the mix.

For a country that has one of the best transshipment container ports in the world, and looks forward to its harbours as the future engine of growth, the corresponding investment in planning and equipment and with no proper drill to handle accidents at sea is a terribly poor show. Questions have also been raised whether Sri Lanka has signed international conventions to pursue insurance claims against errant shippers, and if not, why not.

The ‘great escape’ from the super-tanker MV Diamond’s near sinking off the southeast coast of Sri Lanka with gallons and gallons of diesel and crude oil only last September has taught no lessons to the authorities to rectify the shortcomings. The simple answer appears to be to call the Indian Coast Guard for assistance and seek compensation. Even the case of compensation in the MV Diamond case is reeking with sordid questions.

Coincidentally, next Tuesday (June 8) marks World Oceans Day which tellingly, this year has as its theme; ‘The Ocean: Life and Livelihoods’.

Despite all the brouhaha about Sri Lanka’s geopolitical significance being located in a crucial world shipping lane, and what a great maritime hub it is going to be with a new port in Hambantota and now the Port City in Colombo, much of the talk reminds one of the local idiom, ‘talk is by palanquin, but the walk is by foot’.

Poor battle plans to fight proxy wars abroad

If arresting the free falling COVID situation on land and the blazing ship at sea are not a handful to handle, fire-fighting proxy wars against it abroad seems a humongous task for the Government. Appointing ill-qualified personnel for the latter assignment is not helping in this onerous assignment, either.

There is a snowballing effect from resolution after motion after court order in Western legislatures and courts against the incumbent Government. Just last month the provincial assembly of Ontario in Canada approved a motion brought by a pro-LTTE member to declare a week in May to commemorate what it called ‘Genocide in Sri Lanka’. It has gone unchallenged. Last week, the US Congress forwarded a resolution to the House Foreign Relations Committee to vet a draft resolution that follows up from the UNHRC resolution against Sri Lanka with the addition of the reference to a “Tamil Homeland”.

In the UK, where the LTTE remains a banned organisation, sympathisers of the terrorist group have kept up the tempo with demonstrations in London while the local Police adopt a ‘Nelsonian-eye’.

This week, a UK appeal tribunal upturned orders by granting two LTTE sympathisers asylum on the basis of not just the human rights record in Sri Lanka as the tribunal sees it, but the political trajectory of the incumbent Government in Colombo.

Mercifully for Sri Lanka, Dr. Colvin R. De Silva ensured the Republican Constitution of 1972 (now May 22 as Republic Day is not even celebrated in Sri Lanka) broke the judicial umbilical cord with the Privy Council in Britain and court orders in the UK are limited to its own jurisdiction. However, the upshot of the UK judgment (please see page 10 for details) is that any asylum seeker in the UK has only to show his LTTE membership card, or their trademark cyanide capsule, or even an AK-47 issued to him or her to win asylum in the UK.

Any law student will be able to pick any number of holes in the UK appeal tribunal’s order. It refers to Sri Lanka’s “violent history” of the past four decades forgetting the violent history in the UK via the IRA. There is a reference to “entrenchment of the presence of military personnel in the power structure of the Government”, but what is probably meant is ‘former military personnel’. There are references to ‘colonisation of Buddhists’ in Sri Lanka and the introduction of new words to the English language such as ‘Sinhalisation’.

Nit-picking the wording of these resolutions and orders is like barking at the moon. The snowballing of all these multi-pronged exercises is going to soon turn into an avalanche unless the Government can rectify its ineptitude in meeting these challenges.



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