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Priests lead protest to demand action over Sri Lanka shipwreck

Govt urged to compensate fishermen and clean up the coast after an accident that caused widespread pollution

UCA News reporter, Colombo

UCA News reporter, Colombo

Published: October 13, 2021 09:37 AM GMT

Updated: October 13, 2021 10:28 AM GMT

Priests lead protest to demand action over Sri Lanka shipwreck

Fishermen and activists led by Catholic priests demonstrate at Sarakkuwa beach on Oct. 12 to demand speedy compensation for people affected by the burning and sinking of a container ship in June. (Photo: AFP)

The Catholic Church has joined rights groups in calling for the Sri Lankan government to compensate fishermen and clean up the coast after a shipwreck caused widespread pollution.

Priests, civil society organizations, environmentalists and media organizations demonstrated at Sarakkuwa beach in Pamunugama on Oct. 12.

The Singapore-registered X-Press Pearl caught fire off the coast of Colombo in May as it was transporting 1,486 chemical containers from the Middle East with stops in India and Sri Lanka during its voyage to Singapore.

The protesters said they were demonstrating against the government's silence over the damage done to the ocean and the coast by the ship’s burning and sinking.

Father Sagara Hettiarachchi was holding a poster alongside rights activists at Sarakkuwa. The priest, who is in charge of fisheries at Pamunugama Deanery in the Archdiocese of Colombo, said the damage does not seem to be compensated at an appropriate rate.

"Properly assess the damage and get fair compensation to the fishing community and the country and restore the coast and sea immediately," said Father Hettiarachchi.

Micro plastics damage not only the environment but also people. The X-press Pearl caused severe damage to the sea and the coast

Anjana Amarasinghe, secretary of the Socialist Youth Union, said the damage should be assessed immediately and the relevant compensation paid to fishermen.

"Micro plastics damage not only the environment but also people. The X-press Pearl caused severe damage to the sea and the coast," Amarasinghe said.

Environmentalists say the accident polluted more than 700 kilometers of the coast with plastics and other debris. Fish and marine animals such as sea turtles could be seen dying.

The ship sank two weeks after a massive fire caused by an explosion. It was carrying 25 tons of nitric acid along with other chemicals and cosmetics. Several containers washed ashore.

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According to environmentalists, nitrogen oxide has been released into the air and sea in large quantities, increasing the risk of acid rain in the future.

Environmentalist Nuwani Sajeewani said that chemicals contaminated water, killed marine life and destroyed the breeding grounds of sea creatures.

She said the contaminants include nitric acid, sodium dioxide, copper, lead and micro plastics (pellets) which can take centuries to decompose.

She pointed out that more than 150 tons of oil have contributed to the destruction of the surrounding environment and that large amounts of plastic are still floating onto the beach.

The government says it is working to expedite the removal of the wreck of the ship while monitoring environmental pollution and damage.

In June, Catholic clergy from coastal areas affected by the blazing ship expressed their disappointment and urged the government to compensate all fishermen.

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith urged all fishing organizations to take legal action against the ship’s owner. "I am ready to take the lead in taking legal action against the company that owns the ship," he said in June.

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