(Photo by ISHARA S. KODIKARA/AFP via Getty Images)
THE burnt-out MV X-Press Pearl has caused “significant damage to the planet by the release of hazardous substances”, the United Nations (UN) said on Sunday (20) as it announced a team of experts to determine the full extent of the disaster and necessary follow-up action.
A team of oil spill and chemical experts from the UN and the European Union is working with Sri Lankan agencies to assess the impact of the disaster on the environment.
“An environmental emergency of this nature causes significant damage to the planet by the release of hazardous substances into the ecosystem, this in turn threatens lives and livelihoods of the population in the coastal areas. Our efforts are intended to support assessment of the damage, recovery efforts and ensure prevention of such disasters in the future,” UN resident coordinator for Sri Lanka, Hanaa Singer-Hamdy, said.
The UN report aims to produce key findings and recommendations on short-term response measures and longer-term recovery planning. It will be submitted to the government. It will include technical advisory support, oil spill contingency planning, clean-up operations and environmental impact.
The head of Sri Lanka’s Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA), Darshani Lahandapura, said the team’s assessment report would be used in claiming damages from the company which owns the ship.
The cargo vessel, MV X-Press Pearl, was carrying a consignment of chemicals and raw materials for cosmetics from Hazira in Gujarat. On May 20, it caught fire near the port of Colombo.
Hundreds of litres of hazardous chemicals, plastic pellets were released into the sea as the vessel caught fire. More than 1,400 loaded containers fell into the sea.
Environmentalists have dubbed it as one the worst ecological disasters in the country’s history.
Last week, Sri Lanka made an interim damage claim of $40 million (£33m) from the owners of the cargo ship, through the attorney general following a directive by prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa.
The Russian captain of the cargo vessel has been granted bail after he and his crew were questioned.
The travel ban imposed on the captain and his crew – in total 25 people of Indian, Chinese, Filipino and Russian nationality – will remain till further progress made in the probe.