ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s Shippers Council (SLSC) representing exporters and importers of the island called for an independent inquiry in to X-Press Pearl fire which has caused environmental damage and led the island to call for help from India.
“SLSC calls for a thorough and impartial investigation on this incident; particularly keeping politics and geopolitics aside from the probe so that justice will prevail,” the grouping said in a statement.
“The investigations should cover all aspects pertaining to the incident.”
The SLSC said the (a) exporter cargo declaration, (b) origin port functions, (c) responses and responsibilities of ports en route, (d) duties executed by the ship captain and crew, (e) its principle office response, (f) local ship agent’s conduct and local authority communications/ actions taken during the incident to accurately understand where lapses have taken place resulting in this disaster.”
All shippers (exporters) are expected to correctly declare dangerous cargo according to International Maritime Organizations rules, where they are classed into 9 categories.
“The International Maritime Organization’s IMDG Code has clear guidelines to handle these types of cargo and incidents,” the Shipper’s Council said.
“However, the resolutions and international laws ratified need to be locally included appropriately in country legislation for it to be considered as the law of the land.”
Dangerous goods also have to be packed appropriately and a packers certificate given. X-Press Peal was carrying hundreds of tonnes of Sodium Hydroxice and a leading acid container.
X-Press Feeders, the owners of the vessel had has said a leaking acid container was badly packed. It is not clear who issued the packing certificate and what action will be taken against them.
Vessels also have a right to refuse badly packed packages.
An origin port generally also prepares a Bay Plan (where and how containers are stacked on the ship) through container handling software which also has to be done according to IMDG requirements. Dangerous goods are expected to be segregated.
The Bay/Stowage Plan is usually checked by the ship which also has loading computers.
Sri Lanka’s Criminal Investigation Department and extensively questioned the vessel’s Chief Officer on the stowage plan, police said.
The leaking container was placed on deck on a bay where the under-decks had caustic soda containers.
The fire had first broken out in the Number 02 hold of the vessel. It is not clear whether acids can be stored on top of bases under IMDG rules. Both are class 8 corrosive dangerous goods.
The containers also have to be labeled prominently depending on the class of dangerous goods.
X-Press Feeders has said port in Hamad and India had refused to re-pack the container. It is not clear whether new IMO rules are needed to mandate such assistance early, analysts say.
There have been concerns raised in Sri Lanka that the ship or agents did not inform Colombo Port of the leaking container before arrival.
Colombo Ports Harbhour Master Nirmal Silva told reporters the issue of giving priority berthing did not arise because the port was only informed of the problem after the ship anchored in the outer harbour and developments had then come rapidly.
Shipping agents have been influencing Sri Lanka maritime policy for decades, blocking liberalization to make the transhipment hub into a full foreign direct investment driven maritime hub, like Singapore critics say.
Sri Lanka does not have international salvors or tug companies based in the island.
“In a nutshell, most of these items could be well addressed and rectified if a robust longer-term Shipping and logistics Policy is implemented in the Island,” the Shippers Council said.
“SLSC has been in the forefront providing valuable input to several drafts of such policy document but unfortunately Sri Lanka has failed to come up with a fair and comprehensive document to
address this requirement owing to some quarters in the industry using such opportunity to further personal business gains over national interests.
“The government should take appropriate action to involve experts in the industry and main industry bodies in developing such policy soon and successive governments should continue to endorse the policy if we are to succeed in our commercial maritime activities.” (Colombo/June07/2021)