Residents collect debris washed ashore from the Singapore-registered container ship X-Press Pearl on May 26. (Photo: AFP)
A cardinal has urged the Sri Lankan government to sue for damage to beaches, the seabed, marine animals, fishermen and the environment caused by a shipwreck.
Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith said it is the responsibility of the government to bring the sea and the fishing community back to normalcy after the damage caused by the Singapore-registered X-press Pearl container vessel, which caught fire off the Sri Lankan coast on May 20.
"The shipping company, insurance agents and other parties should not be allowed to spend as little as they want and flee from the real expense of the damage," he said.
"Fix the damage caused by these companies and recover the fine required to remove it. Go to the international court seeking damages from the wrecked X-press Pearl."
He was speaking on Oct. 26 while inspecting Sarakkuwa beach in Pamunugama, which was polluted by the accident.
The X-Press Pearl caught fire off the coast of Colombo on May 20 and blazed for several days. It was transporting 1,486 containers from the Middle East with stops in India and Sri Lanka during its voyage to Singapore.
Why was this ship on fire for days? Why didn't responsible officers talk to the shipping company to take immediate action to avoid the damage?
Among its cargo was 25 tons of nitric acid along with other chemicals. After burning for 12 days, the vessel sank on June 2.
Several containers washed ashore from the X-press Pearl, which was anchored about 9.5 nautical miles from Colombo port.
According to environmentalists, nitrogen oxide has been released into the air and sea in large quantities, increasing the risk of acid rain.
Ven. Pahiyangala Ananda Sagara Thera and a group of environmentalists were also present at Sarakkuwa beach when Cardinal Ranjith arrived. Officials of the Maritime Environmental Protection Authority (MEPA) were also there.
Cardinal Ranjith said the authorities should be punished for not taking proper action when the ship caught fire.
"Why was this ship on fire for days? Why didn't responsible officers talk to the shipping company to take immediate action to avoid the damage? All these things should be investigated. The voice of the people should be raised and the fishing community also needs to raise their voice," he said.
Priests demonstrated alongside representatives of environmental and civil society organizations at Sarakkuwa beach last week demanding the government clean up the coast devastated by the accident.
The protesters said the demonstration was against the government's silence in the face of the damage already done to the ocean and the coast by the X-press Pearl.
According to the MEPA, the coastal area from Mannar to Dondra is cleaned daily and 400 workers have been deployed in the operation
In June, Catholic clergy from coastal areas affected by the blazing ship voiced their disappointment and urged the government to compensate all fishermen.
Antony Sebastian, a fisherman from Negombo, said locals collected debris from the beach and Negombo lagoon.
"They were paid 1,250 rupees (US$6) for the removal of debris per day as their labor," said Sebastian, who collects debris at the lagoon.
Darshani Lahadapura, chairperson of the MEPA, said not only the coast but also marine life was affected.
The agency said removal of debris of the X-Press Pearl is set to start in early November. According to the MEPA, the coastal area from Mannar to Dondra is cleaned daily and 400 workers have been deployed in the operation.