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Maritime disasters: Justice Minister appears before PSC

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Justice Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC, yesterday (31) said that he had appeared before a Select Committee headed by Dr. Ramesh Pathirana tasked with inquiring into fire onboard crude carrier MT New Diamond off the East coast in early Sept 2020 and the destruction of container carrier X-Press Pearl off Colombo in May/June 2021.

The Justice Minister said that he expected the 14-member PSC to examine the incidents and come up with a suitable set of recommendations to address such issues, including compensation and other related payments. The Minister also stressed the pivotal importance of inquiring into the Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA) with the focus on its responses and follow-up action in the wake of incidents.

The minister said so responding to The Island lead story headlined ‘Ex-MEPA boss says insurer’s offer wholly inadequate’ in Aug 31 edition.

The Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa government replaced lawyer Dharshini Lahadapura in early Feb this year with another lawyer Asela B. Rekawa. Both incidents took place during Lahadapura’s tenure as the MEPA chairperson.

Dr. Rajapaksa said that Chairperson of Sectoral Oversight Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Sustainable Development SJB MP Ajith Mannapperuma passed him information regarding a person receiving USD 250 mn bribe to sabotage Sri Lanka’s case against X-Press Pearl. But when the police sought information from the MP in this regard, he failed to assist in the inquiry, Dr. Rajapakse said, adding that a thorough inquiry was needed to establish the truth.

The Justice Minister said USD 878,000 offered was reimbursement of expenses incurred by MEPA during Feb-August 2022 and not for environmental damage caused. Lahadapura confirmed this, adding that Sri Lanka had received USD 6,754,557.49 for clean up operations undertaken from May 2021 to January 2022.

Minister Rajapakse said that the PSC should ascertain the circumstances MT New Diamond had been allowed to leave Sri Lankan waters in spite of the government receiving the right to take the vessel in line with international law. At that time Sri Lanka with the Indian backing brought the fire under control, the vessel had USD 81 mn worth crude, the minister said, adding that the government could have taken the cargo and the vessel but it was released under controversial circumstances. (SF)

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