The Express Pearl is completely engulfed in flames. But because of that, the issues and problems we have to face will continue for at least another six or seven decades. It implies that those of you who remember this destruction today will not be able to see the country get rid of the destruction caused by the Express Pearl fire in our lifetime. This ship accident, which caused the biggest environmental damage in the history of navigation, cannot be described as a mere accident. (Sri Lanka Latest News)
The cause of the ship’s fire was the leakage of chemicals on board. When this incident was reported, an international website splash243.com had reported that the ship’s captain had observed the chemical leak in the Arabian Sea. It is thousands of miles away from Sri Lanka.
They then sought entry permission from India and two ports in Qatar. But those two ports have not accepted Express Pearl. This information was told to splash243.com by Tim Hartnoll, Executive Chairman of X Press Feeders, and the company that owns the ship.
The rejected ship comes directly to Sri Lanka. It is questionable whether the local agency of that ship informed the harbor master of the Colombo port that there was a chemical leak.
Correct practice should do so. If the harbor master was aware of this, he should have made special security arrangements before allowing this dangerous ship to dock at Colombo port. It was not revealed that they did so in those days.
It is common practice for a ship to dock outside the port before entering the port. It is not unusual to do so until the anchorage is ready. It is learned that the Express Pearl was also parked outside the port until the berth was ready.
So, if the fire started a little later, it is also possible that the Express would have anchored inside the Harbor by then. If so, it is not difficult to understand what the situation is. Indeed, it is a serious problem that the port authorities dare to bring a ship that had a chemical leak in the Arabian Sea to a Sri Lankan port with that leak and the resulting risk of fire.
The writer does not say that Sri Lanka should look away after witnessing such a ship accident. Sri Lanka, which is located in the best position on an international shipping route, has no ability to remain so. It is in accordance with international maritime laws that neighboring states intervene and help in such shipwrecks. But we were able to rescue the crew first when the ship was in the distant sea.
Also, it had the ability to try to put out the fire by keeping it in the international ocean limits and taking the support of the neighboring countries with the intervention of our navy. But what happened was that despite the risk of fire, it was brought into the coast of Sri Lanka. That’s where the first suspicion of the Express Pearl fire comes from.
But none of this happened. Just as we could not put out the fire of the ship that reached the harbor, we were also unable to prevent it from sinking in the ocean. Due to this accident, the coast from Halawata to Panadura was severely damaged.
As a result, there was significant damage to biodiversity both in coastal seas and on land, and has not recovered from it even today. Not only that, the coral reefs that protect the coast from the ocean will be greatly destroyed and the marine life associated with them, mainly fish and crustaceans, may be destroyed or become extinct. There is a possibility that animal community, especially native to our country, will suffer severe damage.
Also, there is a risk of chemically contaminated water entering the country through river estuaries and lagoons. This has created well water contamination, agricultural problems and human risk of various diseases. And there were warnings about the possibility of acid rain at that time. All those warnings are still valid today.
But at that time, all parties were heard saying that Sri Lanka would be entitled to a significant compensation even though such damages cannot be restored with dollars. But Express Pearl compensation doesn’t just come. It should be claimed. The money that the Rajapaksa’s claim to have stolen does not get paid just like the one who holds up the billboards on the road does not get paid for shouting that Express Pearl will pay compensation.
There are many steps to be implemented for that. First we need to establish our right to the sea area where the ship caught fire. Second, we need to assess the damage. The future damage to the country’s tourism and fishing industry should be predicted. All this should be done with full government intervention. But the Sri Lankan government was in a very backward position regarding these actions.
The ship was carrying 25 tons of nitric acid and other chemicals and 1,486 containers of cosmetics at the time of the sinking. In addition, there were 78 metric tons of plastic pellets known as hurdles, which are used to make plastic bags. According to environmentalists, these are the most harmful substances on board. By adding these to the water, the oxygen condition of the aquatic environment is damaged.
In addition, these plastics enter the caramels of the fish that breathe through the caramels, causing the fish to die. As these plastic particles wash up on the beach and sink into the sand, the near-shore environment as well as the marine biodiversity is severely damaged. Therefore, the plastic particles coming to the beach had to be picked up and removed. This is a very difficult task because the cubes are very small. But by collecting these cubes, its quantity can be calculated in kilos, so it becomes very important evidence in a case assigned to get compensation.
Considering all these facts, a Sri Lankan produced an amazing machine to pick up the plastic particles that come to the beach. As the machine worked for two or three days, tons of polythene cubes began to accumulate. An official immediately took action and immediately removed the machine from the operation. That is another suspicious action.
While trying to hide the evidence on the beach, it was clear to anyone that it was impossible to hide the evidence in the ocean. According to the data received by August 5, 2021, the bodies of 176 sea turtles, 04 whales and 20 dolphins were washed ashore due to the environmental destruction caused by the Express Pearl ship.
Experts say that usually no more than 30% of the bodies of dead marine life are piled up. Accordingly, the amount of dead marine life can increase much more than this.
On this occasion, the Minister of State in charge of Coastal Conservation said that it is normal for turtles to die like this during the monsoon season. It was clearly an attempt to downplay the destruction of the Express Pearl. By this time, the crew had been evacuated from the ship and the fire had become impossible to control.
By that time, the ship had begun to sink halfway. After a while, the Sri Lankan authorities tried to tow the ship to the far sea with a boat. But at the same time the ship began to sink.
After that, what was left for us was to get a lot of compensation for the destruction that happened. The authorities of the government clearly said that they will sue for compensation. But like many other things in Sri Lanka, the Express Pearl compensation case always had the ‘Balagiri dosaya’. The prosecution dragged on day by day. A year after the shipwreck, opposition to the Sri Lankan government began to skyrocket.
By June 2022, former President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa had to flee the country. Ranil Wickremesinghe, who was the heron bird of the Parliament, became the Prime Minister and became the President. The minister of state in charge of coastal conservation was thrown into the opposition by the political storm. Due to the increased electricity bills and the burden of living, the people of Sri Lanka started to forget about Express Pearl.
In any case, the environmentalists began to voice that no lawsuits have yet been filed to seek compensation from the Express Pearl ship. At the same time, the opposition started asking the government why it was taking so long to file the case. Even then, we were getting close to the last chance to sue the company that owns the Express Pearl and its insurance company under the statute of limitations. Finally, we managed to transfer the case at the last possible time.
But that case was transferred not in Sri Lanka but in Singapore. Suspicious was the filing of a lawsuit in Singapore for an accident that occurred in Sri Lanka’s ocean boundary. This was questioned in the Parliament and it was said that this decision was taken on the advice of the foreign consultants working in the case and the Attorney General. It is at this time that Justice Minister Dr. Wijayadasa Rajapaksa makes a controversial revelation, making the Express Pearl crisis even more confusing.
He says that someone has taken a bribe from the shipping company to delay the case against the Express Pearl ship. Revealing more information about it, he says that Chamara Gunasekara, a Sri Lankan residing in Britain, has deposited 250 million dollars in an account maintained by NatWest Bank in England, and that was a bribe given to postpone the prosecution against the ship. However, the minister, who says that this is only information he received, also files a complaint with the Criminal Investigation Department to find Chamara Gunasekara.
But till today, the department has not been able to find Chamara Gunasekara or his account. In such a situation, the Financial Intelligence Unit of the Central Bank could have assisted the investigations, but it is not clear whether it did so.
It is at this time that LankaEnews, an active Sinhala website in England, publishes an article revealing who Chamara Gunasekara is. According to that article, Chamara Gunasekara is a Sri Lankan residing in England, who can be Manju Nisshanka. The web article says that he is one of Nalaka Godaheva’s close friends and that he spent money on Godaheva’s election campaign.
In response, Manju Nishanka says that although he legally changed his first name from Manju Nalin Nishanka to Manju Nishanka, he did not appear as Chamara Gunasekara. He also said that he expected to file a case against LankaEnews website.
Commenting on this, environmentalist Nayanaka Ranwella says that even though he and a group searched, there was no one named Chamara Gunasekara in England. And that England is a country fenced in money laundering and it is impossible for a third party to deposit 250 million dollars into an account. Also, the company that owns the ship is not willing to give so much money to settle the case.
He says that because the company knows that it can get work from Sri Lankan officials for less money. When the compensation story of the Express Pearl ship was discussed in the Parliament, because of Chamara Gunasekara’s question, former state minister Nalaka Godahewada intervened. The reason for this is that Manju Nishanka, who the aforementioned LankaEnews reports say may be Chamara Gunasekara, is a strong supporter of Nalaka Godaheva.
Accordingly, a story related to the New Diamond ship, which had an accident on the coast of Sri Lanka before the Express Pearl ship, also comes to the fore. Former Minister of State Nalaka Godaheva from the ruling party was accused of complicity in the release of the New Diamond ship without compensation.
But in response, Nalaka Godaheva says that it was Admiral Jayanath Colombage, who held the position of Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at that time, who gave orders to release the ship on the instructions of former President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. The Blue Diamond ship is leaving the country’s coast after promising to pay nearly 10 million dollars in compensation to Sri Lanka. But according to reports, a ship named Blue Diamond has not been found anywhere in the world.
This may be due to the ship being sold to scrap metal or sailing under a different name. Finally, Sri Lanka does not have the Blue Diamond compensation. There is no such ship as Blue Diamond. Could the same be the case with the Express Pearl compensation case?
However, Justice Minister Wijayadasa Rajapakse strongly objected to the parliamentary debate scheduled to be held on this matter. Saying that debating a case before a court in Parliament may prejudice the case. Anyway, after a discussion held by the party leaders with the speaker, the debate could be held subject to certain restrictions.
We expect to seek compensation of $6.5 billion for the damage caused by the Express Pearl ship to Sri Lanka’s marine environment, fisheries and tourism industry. The financial facility to be provided by the International Monetary Fund to Sri Lanka is 3.9 billion dollars.
Accordingly, the compensation due to us due to the destruction of the ship is double the financial facility to be provided by the International Monetary Fund. But environmentalist Nayanaka Ranwella says that there is only one arbitration court in Singapore. In his opinion, the maximum compensation that can be received from that court will not exceed 25 million dollars.
Of that amount, $10 million has already been paid, leaving nearly $15 million remaining. Of that amount, almost $4 million must be paid to the Singapore law firm, leaving us with $11 million. He says that it is a real crime to get 25 million dollars for 6.5 billion dollar compensation.
According to the available information, the case is currently being heard before the court in Singapore. But most of the information related to it is still unknown to Sri Lankans. At least the information of the petitioner in the case is not properly disclosed. Therefore, Sri Lankans still have a vague picture of this case.
It is said everywhere that someone took money to crack the case. If the news is true, many people have doubts whether the case being investigated in Singapore will be the same as the cases assigned to the corrupt during the last good governance period. If someone has accepted a bribe to break the Pearl Express case, he has not only committed a legal offense. It is an insult to the fifth generation of one’s own generation and the essence of that earth that nurtures the next generation.
Aruna Laxman Fernando