High-level meeting to select foreign expert to assess damage

X-Press Pearl’s Captain, Tyutkalo Vitaly.

The Attorney General (AG) has decided to initiate criminal proceedings against the Captain of the MV X-Press Pearl and the local agent of the Singapore-based operators of the ill-fated vessel.

Indictments are to be served on them at the Colombo High Court this week under the Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA) Act, the Criminal Procedure Code and the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance, authoritative sources said.

The X-Press Pearl’s Captain, Tyutkalo Vitaly and Arjuna Hettiarachchi, the Chairman and Managing Director of Sea Consortium Lanka (Pvt) Ltd, the local agent of the ship’s operator X-Press Feeders, were released on bail after being arrested by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and produced in the Colombo High Court.

Meanwhile, a high level meeting is due to take place today at the Justice Ministry to select a foreign expert to conduct an overall assessment of the damage caused to the country by the X-Press Pearl disaster. The meeting will be attended by Justice Minister – Ali Sabry, Attorney General – Sanjay Rajaratnam, officials from the MEPA, the Fisheries Department, the Department of Wildlife Conservation and other stakeholders.

Government sources also disclosed that they had sent a USD 40 million interim claim to the vessel’s operators and were expecting about one third of the claim to be settled in the next few days. The interim claim was submitted for part of the costs incurred when fighting the fire that began on May 20 aboard the vessel.

Meanwhile, the Colombo Chief Magistrate’s Court has ordered the Government Analyst to submit a detailed report on the concentration of chemicals and oil in seawater and sand samples taken from the region surrounding the area where the MV X-Press Pearl has sunk.

Additional Magistrate, Lochana Abeywickrama gave the order this week in response to a request submitted by the Criminal Investigation Department’s (CID) Maritime Investigation Unit.

Accordingly, the Government Analyst has been directed to submit a report on the hydrocarbon content of the seawater samples, their nitrogen and phosphate concentration, heavy metal concentration, aluminium content, urea concentration, evaporated salt content and PHA concentration.

The Government Analyst has also been asked to identify any chemicals that have become mixed with the seawater and if chemicals are present, explain how harmful they are. Court has further ordered the GA to check whether any oil had become mixed with the seawater and sand samples and if so, what type of oil they are.

Deputy Solicitor General (DSG) Madhawa Tennakoon told court that despite the earlier order given by the additional magistrate for the crew of the X-Press Pearl to hand over all their electronic devices to the CID, some crew members were yet to do so. Court directed that all such devices be handed over immediately.

The case will be taken up again on June 30.

Meanwhile, on Monday, the X-Press Pearl’s Captain, Tyutkalo Vitaly was released on a personal bond of Rs. 2 million after being arrested by the CID and produced before the Colombo High Court. High Court Judge, Damith Thotawatta also imposed a travel ban on the suspect. He was charged under Section 12 of the MEPA Act, which relates to deliberate or accidental discharge of pollutants to the sea.

Appearing on behalf of Captain Vitaly, Sarath Jayamanne PC, with Attorney-at-Law Nipuna Wimalasekara, noted that the responsibility of dousing a fire such as the one that occurred aboard the X-Press Pearl fell on the port located nearest to the vessel, which in this case was the Colombo Port.

He pointed out that a team comprising officials from the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) and officers of the Sri Lanka Navy had boarded the X-Press Pearl whilst smoke was still coming from the cargo hold. However, they had made no attempt to fight the fire and had left after observing the situation for more than 1½ hours.

Mr. Jayamanne charged that the Sri Lankan authorities allowed the fire to spread in the hope of receiving compensation for the damages.

DSG Madhawa Tennakoon rejected the allegations, stating that investigations had found that it took the captain 14 hours to notify the port authorities about the fire onboard. He told court that investigations had shown that the fire began at 2a.m. on May 20 but that it was only at 2.25p.m. that the ship asked the port authorities for assistance. He claimed that the fire had got out of control because the captain and crew of the vessel had not taken proper measures to extinguish the blaze as soon as it started.

DSG Tennakoon, however, said the AG’s Department had no objection to granting bail to the captain.

On Wednesday, the CID also arrested Arjuna Hettiarachchi, the Chairman and Managing Director of Sea Consortium Lanka (Pvt) Ltd, the local agent of the shipping company. He was produced in the Colombo High Court. Anura Meddegoda, PC, who appeared for the suspect along with Yasa Jayasekara and Chathura Galhena, made a request for bail and assured that the suspect would cooperate with the investigation. The AG’s Department again did not object to granting bail to the suspect.

High Court Judge, Damith Thotawatta then released Mr. Hettiarachchi on a cash bail of Rs. 100,000 and two sureties of Rs. 1 million each. Court also imposed a travel ban on him and ordered him to surrender his passport.

DSG 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.

The case will be taken up again on July 1.