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SJB steps in to help SL claim damages for X-Press Pearl disaster

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By Saman Indrajith

The main opposition SJB has sent letters of demand to the owners of the MV X-Press Pearl containership seeking compensation for the worst-ever maritime disaster in the country’s history.SJB and Opposition leader Sajith Premadasa told Parliament yesterday (11) that the party had filed legal action against a number of shipping companies associated with the ship in a bid to assist the government’s efforts to file a damages claim.

A preliminary letter of demand has been issued by the SJB to EUSRO (Pvt) Ltd, followed by LoDs to Sea Consortium (Pvt) Ltd, X-Press Feeders (Pvt) Ltd, Sea Consortium Lanka Ltd, London Steam Ship Owners Mutual Insurance Association Ltd, GAC Shipping Ltd and one other company.

“These shipping companies seem to think there are groups in this country that can be bought. There is no one in our country who can be bought. I think this will be a strength to our efforts to obtain USD 6.4 billion,” Premadasa said.

He accused the government of coming up with excuses for not actively pursuing the damages claim.Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe said the government has filed a claim in Singapore but will also fight the case in the UK after insurers and owners went to Admiralty Courts seeking to limit compensation to 19.2 million sterling pounds.

Sri Lanka filed a case in Singapore on April 25, seeking damages, which was to be heard in June but has been brought forward to early May. Sri Lanka’s lawyers will seek more time, Minister Rajapsakshe said.

He said that an expert committee appointed on the matter has estimated the total damage at 6.4 billion US dollars. Sri Lanka has sought 22.1 million US dollars in damages for the marine environment and 273.014 million US dollars for fishermen, India has sought 495.3 million Indian rupees from Sri Lanka as the cost of firefighting operations, which was 1941.5 million in Sri Lankan rupees. Sri Lanka has hired Dentons Rodyk and Davidson LLP legal firm in Singapre and Sparke Helmore of Australia to argue its case.

The owners of the vessel and its insurers have gone to an Admiralty Court in the UK seeking to cap damages to the ship and the marine and coastal environment at 19.2 million sterling pounds, Rajapakshe said.King’s Counsel Peter MacDonald from DAC Beachcroft firm has been hired to represent Sri Lanka in seeking a removal of the cap on damages, he said.

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