By: Staff Writer
Colombo (LNW): Time is running out for Sri Lanka to take legal action for the X-Press Pearl Disaster claiming environmental damage caused by the fire that broke when the vessel approached the Port of Colombo on May 19, 2021.
The Attorney General’s (AG) Department and the Justice Ministry have directed the Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA) to submit the final report compiled by an expert team detailing the environmental damage caused by the X-Press Pearl disaster.
The X-Press Pearl, caught fire on May 25 2021 and sank nine nautical miles off Sri Lankan waters on June 2, and was considered as one of the world’s worst marine disasters involving freighting chemical cargo.
The country faces the risk of losing US$ 10 billion in compensation if the Sri Lankan government did not take legal action within 45 days for the X-Press Pearl Disaster, the Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ) claimed.
CEJ Senior Environmental Scientist Hemantha Withanage said that a new research report finds heavy pollution in the marine environment around the Xpress Pearl Shipwreck.
“The CEJ believes that under Sri Lankan law, the case to apply for compensation should be filed within two years of the incident, that is, before May 29, 2023. Now we have only 45 days remaining,” he said.
A statute of limitations sets the maximum amount of time that parties involved in a dispute have to initiate legal proceedings from the date of an alleged offence, whether civil or criminal. As such, instructions were issued to hand over the report within three weeks.
The Justice Minister also expressed annoyance that MEPA had sent the final report to an Australian firm hired as a legal consultant first without sending it to the Justice Ministry.
“The report should have come to the Justice Ministry first. It is then forwarded to the AG’s Department. That is the process. The move to first send the report to a foreign legal firm and ask for recommendations is highly suspicious and gives rise to claims that this is a deliberate delaying tactic,” the minister claimed.
The marine disaster involving the ill-fated X-Press Pearl,the vessel approached the port of Colombo on May 19, 2021, caught fire on May 25 and sank nine nautical miles off Sri Lankan waters on June 2, and was considered as one of the world’s worst marine disasters involving freighting chemical cargo.
“There were 1,486 containers in the vessel. 81 of them contained extremely hazardous chemicals harmful for the environment, and 349 contained epoxy resin.
Also, there were 6700 metric tons of various plastic pellets and other substances, including nitric acid.
They were burning for several days, causing marine pollution along the sea area in Negombo, around 750 km sea area around Sri Lanka, in other states located in the Indian Ocean, and in the sea and coastal resources as far as Somalia.