The government will submit an initial claim for US$ 50 million as compensation from the owners/insurance agents of the X-Press Pearl vessel, which was destroyed in a blaze in Sri Lankan territorial waters, a top government official said.
A Marine Environmental Protection Authority (MEPA) team is now working on the preliminary compensation proposal to be submitted shortly.
The team has also sought inputs from various other sectors affected by the enormous environmental disaster caused by the fire-stricken cargo vessel to prepare separate claims for compensation.
Central Environmental Authority’s Chemical and Hazardous Waste Management Unit, Director, Ajith Weerasundara said they would shortly spell out their recommendations regarding the extensive damage by the waste around the sea areas.
He termed the impact as ‘huge’ with a strong chemical spread in the vicinity. “MEPA is handling the calculations on the negative impacts on the ocean and to marine biodiversity”, he said.
Environmental Scientist, Hematha Withanage said, “Only eight of the 1,486 containers had been cleared from the sea. The longer the delay, the more extensive will be the damage caused”.
He said the fisheries sector has lost around Rs. 80 million per day and in addition, the clean up will have to go on for many more years though it may not be possible to trace 40 per cent of the debris.
“The billions of plastic pellets that were washed ashore will remain intact for the next 500 to 1,000 years,” Mr. Withanage asserted and noted that, “Every single plastic pellet is an environmental threat. We may collect 50 per cent, but the rest will remain buried in the sand the along the affected coastal belt”.
The ship seems to have been transporting around 42 different chemicals and around 45 different materials (of the declared goods) that possibly contain hazardous chemicals, he claimed.
He also said while some are known toxics, the others are not chemicals of concern in their pure form. However, as the chemicals were ignited and also mixed with sea water, the damage will have a multiple ecological impact.
For example, the ingots when burned could emit lead vapour that cause air-borne contamination, he pointed out.
Oil Spill Response Limited (OSRL) and The International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation (ITOPF) are the ship owners and insurance companies, respectively.
Environment Minister Amaraweera said that the ship’s VDR (Voyage Data Recorder) would reveal those responsible for the ecological and economic disaster. They should be held accountable.
The environmental damage caused by the burning ship cannot be quantified as it’s so enormous, he noted.
He also said the Marine Environment Protection Authority Chairman informed him that a team has already been sent to the vicinity of the sunken ship to investigate and obtain the oil samples.
“I received the list of cargo aboard the vessel. There were 193 items in about 1,486 containers”, the Minister said.
Debris from the container ship has affected more than 150km of Sri Lanka’s coastline, according to International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation (ITOPF) experts who are on site.
ITOPF said more than 1,000 people are involved in the clean-up operation. The specialist pollution response company Oil Spill Response has also arrived in Sri Lanka and will work with ITOPF in providing technical assistance.
The Wildlife Conservation Department said dozens of dead marine species have been found on beaches countrywide.