ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s Attorney General Dappula de Livera has forwarded a marine environmental pollution claim of Rs 3.4 billion (USD 19.02 million) to the owners of the MT New Diamond oil tanker that caught fire in Sri Lankan waters last September, an official said.
The owners, Porto Emporios Shipping Inc, a shipping company based in Greece, paid Rs 442 million in October for expenses incurred by Sri Lanka in dousing the fire, but compensation for damages caused to the marine environment has yet to be paid.
Marine Environmental Protection Authority (MEPA) Chairperson Dharshani Lahandapura told EconomyNext that out of the Rs 442 million, some 52 million was for the MEPA.
“Investigations revealed that the captain of the ship had not acted responsibly, so we also pressed criminal charges against him and filed a case in the Supreme Court seeking Rs 12 million in damages,” she said.
The MT New Diamond was carrying 270,000 metric tons of crude oil from the port of Meena Al Ahmadi in Kuwait to the Port of Paradip in India when, on September 03, 2020 a fire erupted in the ship’s boiler in the main engine room about 38 nautical miles away from the Sri Lankan shore. There were 23 crew members including five Greeks and 18 Philippine nationals aboard, one of whom died before rescue teams arrived.
It was also reported that 1,700 metric tons of diesel required for operating the tanker were also stored onboard the 20-year old, 333m-long ship.
The fire was put out in a joint mission by the Sri Lanka Navy, Sri Lanka Air Force, Sri Lanka Cost guard, the Indian Navy and Indian Coast Guards.
According to Lahandapura, a report was submitted to the Attorney General after a panel of 18 experts assessed the environmental cost of the accident.
“We demanded compensation from the shipping company in three stages. This is the third stage, where compensation is sought for environmental damage caused by the stricken ship.”
Assessing the environmental damage was a complicated process in which four factors into consideration, said Lahandapura: the damage to Sri Lanka’s fisheries and marine life, property damage, the impact on tourism or other aspects of the economy and miscellaneous costs.
“Since this happened in the deep sea, and not close to land, there was no property damage or economic loss. But we can approximately calculate the fisheries loss, because there was a temporary ban on fishing activities at the time,” she said, adding that a US model was used for the calculation.
“It took a long time but we were able to calculate the damage to the environment, and we submitted a report to the attorney general,” she said.
Based on the report, AG dde LIvera forwarded the environment pollution claim of Rs 3.4 billion this week.
Lahandapura said permission for the tanker to leave Sri Lankan waters was given in the first week of October only after the Rs 442 million was paid for the expenses incurred.
“Until those payments were settled, the ship was under the jurisdiction of the Sri Lanka authorities,” she said.
“This was the first time Sri Lanka faced this kind of a situation. If it happened closer to the shore, we could’ve calculated the losses more clearly. We don’t even have a base line to calculate the damage, because this is the first time something like this happened,” Lahandapura said.
“We took this legal action forward because we need to gain the experience and the knowledge in case it happens again,” she added.
Lahandapura further said authorities are planning to conduct a drill in collaboration with the security forces and coast guards in May this year on the waters off Trincomalee to prepare for such accidents.
The MEPA chairperson said there are three categories of oil spill events: 50 metric tons, 50 to 100 metric tons, and over 100 metric tons.
“The third scenario is an international level threat where you have to get international help to contain the situation. It will be a regional matter. In such situation, the president will have to declare an environmental emergency and will have to call other countries to help.”
Lahandapura believes such accidents are “very likely” in Sri Lanka’s territorial waters given the island’s location.
” Sri Lanka itself is a threat zone for ships because we are in the middle of the silk route where 350 to 400 ships are crossing our seas at any given time. There is a lot of traffic,” she said.
Discussions are under way with Scandinavian countries to acquire funds and expertise in order to prepare Sri Lanka for such an eventuality, she added. (Colombo/Apr09/2021)