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Friday February 23rd, 2024

Sri Lanka AG-headed delegation meets X-Press Pearl shipowner’s lawyers in Singapore

ECONOMYNEXT – A delegation led by Sri Lanka’s attorney general has met lawyers representing the ship-owner interests in the X-Press Pearl maritime disaster in a meeting that discussed, among other things, interim claims made by Sri Lankan authorities.

According to a statement from the President’s Media Division (PMD), the meeting took place in Singapore on July 18 and 19. The Sri Lankan delegation, appointed by the cabinet of ministers, comprised nine officials.

The PMD statement called the meeting a “significant development” but clarified that it would have “no bearing on the ongoing legal proceedings initiated by the government of Sri Lanka in Singapore, which are already underway.”

The meeting was convened in response to a request made by the lawyers on behalf of their clients following a claims action filed by Sri Lanka in Singapore in April. Both parties addressed several critical aspects related to the incident and its aftermath during this week’s meeting, the statement said.

“A key focus of the talks was to assess the outstanding interim claims put forth by the Marine Environment Authority and the Ministry of Fisheries from the Government of Sri Lanka. In response to their concerns, the Sri Lankan delegation received assurance from the ship-owner interests’ insurers that the assessment of these claims would be conducted promptly and efficiently,”the PMD said.

The attorney general, representing the government of Sri Lanka, has highlighted at the meeting the urgency of concluding the ongoing wreck decommissioning and debris recovery works within Sri Lankan waters. The PMD said the insurers of the ship-owner interests had responded positively to this, indicating their cooperation in addressing this issue.

The lawyers had also expressed their willingness to consider claims made by the Sri Lankan government concerning the damage caused to the marine environment and had showed openness to further discussions with Sri Lanka in the near future, the PMD said.

“The talks mark a significant step in resolving the aftermath of the X-Press Pearl Incident and indicate a cooperative approach by all parties involved. As the assessment of outstanding claims and environmental damage claims progresses, both the Sri Lankan government and the ship-owner interests hope to reach a fair resolution that takes into account the environmental impact and the interests of all stakeholders,” it said.

In May Sri Lanka’s main opposition party the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) issued letters of demand to the owners of the MV X-Press Pearl containership seeking compensation for the worst maritime disaster in the country’s history.

The ship, operated by Singapore based X-Press Feeders, caught fire and sank off the Colombo in May 2021 with a cargo of chemicals.

The opposition has accused the government of coming up with excuses for not actively pursue the damages claim.

Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe told parliament in May that the government had 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.

An expert committee appointed on the matter has estimated the total damage to 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, Rajapasksa told parliament.

India has sought 495.3 million Indian rupees from Sri Lanka as the cost for 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. (Colombo/Jul20/2023)

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Sri Lankans may need to wait for Monetary Board meeting minutes despite new Act

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lankans may have to wait more time to read the meeting minutes of the Central Bank’s Monetary Board, a top official said, despite a new act that has made the central bank to be more transparent and accountable for its decisions.

Many central banks including the United States’ Federal Reserve, India’s Reserve Bank, and Bank of Mexico release the minutes of their monetary policy meeting to ensure transparency.

The new Central Bank Act passed by the Parliament in line with the guidance by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) includes measures for Sri Lanka’s central bank to be more transparent and accountable.

These measures include releasing the Monetary Policy Report every six months and the first such report was released on February 15.

However, the central bank has not taken a decision to release the minutes of the Monetary Board meetings on the monetary policy.

“Going forward, one day this could happen,” Chandranath Amarasekara, Assistant Governor at the Central Bank told reporters on Wednesday (21) at a media briefing.

“Right now, we have just started working on the new Central Bank Act. We are not there yet. There is no such decision on releasing minutes yet.”

The central bank in the past printed billions of rupees to keep the market interest rates artificially low and provide cheap funding for successive governments to propel a debt-driven economy.

It’s decision, however, led Sri Lanka into an unprecedented economic crisis in 2022 with sovereign debt default.

It also propped up the rupee currency artificially in the past to maintain a stable exchange rate at the expense of billions of US dollars. The move also contributed for the economic crisis and later the central bank was forced to allow over 60 percent depreciation in the rupee in March 2022.

However, none of the top central bank officials was held responsible for wrong decisions to hold interest rates artificially low with money printing and propping up the rupee. (Colombo/Feb 23/2024)

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Amid mass migration, Sri Lanka to recruit volunteers as English teachers

ECONOMYNEXT- Sri Lanka is planning to appoint foreign and expatriate volunteers to teach English for Sri Lanka students, the Ministry of Higher Education said, amid thousand of teachers migrating to other countries after the island nation’s unprecedented economic crisis.

Over five thousand teachers have left the country with the Education Ministry permission using the government’s circular of temporarily leaving state jobs while tens of thousands of teachers have left the country without informing the relevant authorities, Education Ministry officials say.

That had led to an acute teacher shortage in the country.

Suren Raghavan, the State Minister for Higher Education said the shortage has aggravated because most of the graduates who have an English degree become writers and join the private sector due to higher salary.

“They do not join government schools. This is a problem all over the country which is why we need to have an online system,” Raghavan told EconomyNext.

Separately he said on Thursday at a press conference that he had spoken to Canadian and Australian High Commissions to get the assistance of where their English teachers who have experience in teaching English as a second language in South Asia.

He also said that there is a number of teachers in the Unite Kingdom have shown interest in teaching English and they have experience in teaching in other Asian countries such as Burma and India while the teaching would be done free of charge.

The new move also comes at a time when the country’s English literacy rate is on the decline, according to the Minister.

President Ranil Wickramasinghe announced the English-for-all initiative three months ago with plans to improve English literacy at school and university level. (Colombo/Feb 23/2024)

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Sri Lanka tea production up 1.4-pct in Jan 2024, exports up 6.8-pct

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s tea production was up 1.4 percent to 18.73 million kilograms in January 2024, with high growns falling and low and mid growns rising, industry data shows.

High grown tea in January 2024 was 3.56 million kilograms, down from 3.36 million, medium growns were 2.6, up from 2.5 million kilograms and low growns were 12.56 million, up from 12.32 million kilograms last year.

Exports, including re-exports were up 6.88 percent to 18.76 million kilograms, industry data published by Ceylon Tea Brokers show.

Export earnings were reported at 102 million US dollars, up from 99.5 million dollars last year. The average FOB price was 5.45 US dollars a kilo down from 5.67 dollars last year.

Tea in bulk was 8.5 million kilograms valued at 12.79 billion rupees, tea in packets was 7.8 million kilograms valued at 13.1 billion rupees and tea in bags was 1.8 million kilos, valued at 5.06 billion rupees.

The top buyer was Iraq with 2.5 million kilos, up from 2.1 million last year followed by the UAE with 1.99 kilos, up from 1.86 million last year.

Russia bought 1.98 million kilos, down from 2.0 last year, Turkey bought 1.72 million kilos, from 2.3 million last year, while Iran bought 1.32 million, up from 614 million last year. (Colombo/Feb23/2024)

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