Indian Naval vessel INS Sarvekshak, which arrived in the country on Thursday, is to begin a survey of the seabed across a wide area impacted by the MV X-Press Pearl disaster. The Sarvekshak is one of the Indian Navy’s hydrographic survey ships and was sent to Colombo by the Indian Government on a request made [...]


Indian Navy to survey Lanka’s seabed to assess impact of X-Press Pearl disaster

Insurers agrees to pay interim claim of US$ 40million; Ship agent's two more directors arrested and released on bail

The CID is preparing a report on carcasses that washed up on the country's beaches after the MV X-Press Pearl ship disaster. Pix by Rekah Thararanganee Fonseka

Indian Naval vessel INS Sarvekshak, which arrived in the country on Thursday, is to begin a survey of the seabed across a wide area impacted by the MV X-Press Pearl disaster.

The Sarvekshak is one of the Indian Navy’s hydrographic survey ships and was sent to Colombo by the Indian Government on a request made by Sri Lanka. Throughout the next week, the ship will be conducting the survey in coordination with the National Hydrographic Office, which comes under the National Aquatic Resources & Development Agency (NARA).

Meanwhile, the X-Press Pearl’s insurers have informed the Attorney General’s (AG) Department that they will honour the interim claim of USD 40 million submitted by Sri Lanka on costs incurred due to the disaster up until June 1. An initial payment of USD 3.6 million (Approximately Rs 720 million) is to be made to the fisheries sector and the money is to be deposited with the Treasury.

A committee comprising Government officials will be appointed to distribute the damage claims, State Minister of Fisheries Kanchana Wijesekara said on Twitter yesterday. The committee willl include officials from the AG’s Department, the Auditor General’s Office, the Gampaha District Secretariat, the Fisheries Ministry and other agencies.

On Tuesday, a decision is to be taken on selecting an international adjuster (insurance claims agent) cum lawyer to assess the environmental damage and quantify the main and substantive damage claim, Government sources disclosed.

This week, the CID also arrested two more directors of Sea Consortium Lanka (Pvt ) Ltd, the ship’s local agent. The directors, Amindra Indrajith Hettiarachchi and Panduka Weerasekara, were produced before Colombo High Court Judge Damith Thotawatta with the CID filing a further report on the investigation.

The AG’s Department said it had no objection to granting bail to either suspect. Both were released on a cash bail of Rs 100,000 each and two sureties each of Rs 1 million. Court also imposed an overseas travel ban on them and ordered their passports to be impounded.

Deputy Solicitor General (DSG) Madhawa Tennakoon, along with Senior State Counsel Lakmini Girihagama and Fazly Razeek and State Counsel Lakmini Dissanayake, Malik Azeez and Lahiru Jayamanne appeared for the Attorney General.

Earlier, the CID also arrested Arjuna Hettiarachchi, the Chairman and Managing Director of Sea Consortium Lanka (Pvt) Ltd and Tyutkalo Vitaly, the X-Press Pearl’s Captain. They too are on bail.

The AG has decided to initiate criminal proceedings against Capt. Vitaly and Mr Hettiarachchi and indictments are to be filed in the Colombo High Court shortly.

The AG’s Department is also considering filing a separate case under the Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA) Act against Sea Consortium Lanka (Pvt) Ltd over the marine environment pollution caused by the disaster.

This comes after a 28-member committee submitted an interim report which stated that Sri Lanka’s atmosphere, ocean, beaches, lagoons, ocean floor and marine food chain have all been directly impacted by the disaster.

The MEPA-appointed committee’s report notes that the disaster has caused severe short, medium and long term environmental damage.

Millions of plastic pellets and other plastic material that sank with the vessel and became mixed with the sea could cause long-term environmental damage for years to come, the report has warned.

The experts have found that plastic debris from the ship has washed up along a staggering 294 kilometres of coastline. Meanwhile, the chemical blaze on the vessel has polluted the atmosphere in an area spread over 100,308 square kilometres, the report notes.

While the impact on the atmosphere will diminish over time, the Committee stresses that the impact on the ocean region will be far more damaging and felt over a longer term due to the dispersion of so much plastic, the committee warns.

Meanwhile, the CID has taken steps to obtain a report from the Government Analyst regarding the deaths of more than 100 sea turtles and other sea creatures including dolphins and whales, whose bodies have washed up on the country’s beaches in the days following the X-Press Pearl disaster. The remains of the sea creatures have been collected by the Department of Wildlife Conservation.

X-Press Feeders, Singapore based operators of the container ship, said in a statement on Friday that caretaker salvors continue to observe a grey sheen emanating from the wreck, but that this has lessened over the last week.

“A specialised salvors tug has arrived from Malaysia to take over the caretaker duties and drones have been flown in and will be deployed on-site to help with the ongoing monitoring activities,” the statement added.

No scientific reason yet for dead turtles washing ashore

More than 120 dead turtle and around nine dolphins have washed ashore so far after the ship disaster.

However, respective authorities have still failed to give a scientific reason for these deaths.

Open University senior professor Dr Saminda Feranando who is conducting postmortems on the turtle carcasses pointed out that the lungs of the turtles appeared with darkened spots similar to those of a smoker’s lungs. He added that the Olive Ridley turtle carcasses all had opened mouths.

He said they all appeared to have suffered breathing difficulties, adding that more tests had to be conducted to confirm what they could have inhaled.

“’The plastic particles have not been consumed by the turtles,” he said.

He said these were merely observations and samples have been sent to the Government Analyst’s department for biochemistry tests.

Meanwhile the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) said they too are carrying out post mortem tests on the dead turtles.

DWC veterinary surgeon Pamuditha Devasurndra said postmortems have been conducted on 15 turtle carcasses but since most had begun to rot they were unable to determine the cause of death only by examining the external wounds, and samples have been sent to the Government Analyst’s Department.

He said that they suspect that smoke inhalation or chemical reaction of some substance mixed in the sea water could have been the cause of agonising deaths.

Meanwhile Colombo University’s senior professor, Prof Samapath Senviratne said that although everyone was focussing on the ship disaster other factors may be causing the death of these sea creatures.

He said the recent cyclonic conditions or human activities such as dumping  plastic and chemicals into the sea could also be contributory factors.

-Rekah Tharaganee Fonseka

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