The Singapore-registered container ship MV X-Press Pearl carrying hundreds of tons of chemicals and plastics, sank after burning for almost two weeks, just outside Colombo’s harbour on June 2, 2021. (Photo by ISHARA S. KODIKARA/AFP via Getty Images)
By Chandrashekar Bhat
SRI LANKA on Monday (12) said it has started the process of paying compensation to local fishermen affected by the fire aboard a Singapore-flagged container ship that sank off the country’s coast last month.
MV X-Press Pearl was carrying 1,486 containers of chemicals and cargo when it went up in flames on May 21 near the Colombo port. The Sri Lankan navy, air force and the Indian Coast Guard jointly doused the fire in an operation that took days. However, the ship sank off Colombo’s coast on June 17.
The state minister of fisheries, Kanchana Wijesekera, said the payment of compensation has been made possible by an interim claim laid on the insurance company of the ship’s owners.
“The local fishermen’s activities were badly affected since May 20, in addition to the environmental damage. Our interim claim was in respect of the expenditure incurred by state agencies in rescue work and assessment of the damage,” Wijesekera told reporters in Colombo.
He said out of the $40 million (£28.9m) to be received under the interim claim, $2.1m (£1.5m) would be utilised to compensate the fishermen.
Following the cargo ship blaze, the government halted fishing activities around the Colombo port and the western shoreline as tons of waste – plastic and chemical material – started floating in the seawater. An estimated 20,000 people have been affected by the fishing ban.
Apart from the 325 tons of fuel in its tanks, the ship was loaded with 25 tons of hazardous nitric acid. A large number of sea animals, including whales and turtles, died due to the disaster which environmentalists have dubbed as one the worst ecological disasters in the country’s history.
Sri Lanka’s Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA) chairman Darshani Lahandapura said at least three months would be required to completely assess the damage caused by the ship’s fire.
The Indian Navy last month deployed its hydrographic survey ship INS Sarvekshak to carry out survey operations to help Lanka restore the safety of navigation of marine traffic through the Colombo port.
A UN team of oil spill and chemicals experts deployed mid-June is still working on the impact assessment of the disaster, Lahandapura said. Their report would be used by the authorities to make its final claim for compensation.