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Ex-MEPA boss says insurer’s offer wholly inadequate

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… urges Parliament to take up suspicious issue with the AG

X-Press Pearl disaster:

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Former Chairperson of MEPA (Marine Environment Protection Authority) Dharshani Lahandapura yesterday (30) asked whether the government had accepted the USD 878,000 (Rs 285 mn) offer made by the insurers of the sunken X-Press Pearl container carrier.

The vessel carrying over 1,486 containers sank off the Colombo Port in early June 2021. At the time of the worst maritime disaster in Sri Lankan waters, Lahandapura served as the Chairperson of MEPA.

Lawyer Lahandapura said that Attorney General Sanjay Rajaratnam, PC, owed an explanation regarding the recent declaration made by Justice Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC, that the insurers had made that offer along with an additional payment of Rs 16 mn. Lahandapura said that the AG should be able to set the record straight as he led a government delegation for talks with the insurers in Singapore in July this year.

The former MEPA boss said that the offer made by the insurers should be compared with Sri Lanka’s claim amounting to USD 6.2 bn.

Responding to The Island queries, the lawyer said that a 14-member parliamentary committee appointed in June this year to examine X-Press Pearl and New Diamond maritime disasters and make recommendations should look into the issue. Lahandapura said that the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) should inquire into the matter as the Justice Minister claimed that a massive USD 250 mn bribe had been paid to undermine Sri Lanka’s case against the ship owners.

Lahandapura pointed out that Sri Lanka had filed a compensation claim in Singapore months after the limitation on damages action filed in the UK by insurers of the X-Press Pearl container vessel. The insurers filed the case in the Commercial High Court in London in February last year under the Convention on Limitation of Liability for Maritime Claims, though Sri Lanka was officially informed of it in March this year, Lahandapura said.

She said that many experts had pointed out that Sri Lanka should file action in Colombo as the incident took place in Sri Lanka’s territorial waters. The government decision to shift the case to Singapore had been based on the recommendation made by the Attorney General, Lahandapura said, urging political parties and civil society groups to take up this issue vigorously.

Commenting further on the offer made by the insurers, Lahandapura said that during her tenure as the MEPA Chief the organisation had received Rs 1.6 bn in installments to cover up expenses incurred during cleaning up operations. But suddenly, the payments had been stopped claiming the delay on the part of Customs regarding some issue connected with X-Press Pearl.

Lahandapura said that when she was questioned by the CIABOC regarding the Justice Minister’s claim, the need to inquire into the AG’s Department had been stressed.

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