The biggest destruction to marine life as well as danger posed to our general public living along the coastal belt is the leakage of nitric acid to the sea
- Still there are many questions left unanswered
By Muheed Jeeran
Sri Lanka’s marine destruction was magniloquent by a container ship that was newly-built few months ago. X-Press Pearl is a Singaporean container ship which was built in 2021 and it is around 186 metres (610 ft. 3 in.) long. The tragedy occurred in the Sri Lanka sea when it was on the return leg of a 30-day round-trip voyage from Port Klang, Malaysia, to Qatar and Dubai.
The ship departed the port of Hazira, Gujarat India on 2 May with 1,486 containers including carrying 30 tons of nitric acid, other dangerous chemicals and cosmetics. Once it reached the Red Sea the captain of the ship was notified by the crews regarding a leakage of nitric acid and the captain of the ship had requested Hazira port in Gujarat first and later with Hamad Port in Qatar to offload it. The request was declined due to lack of specialist facilities or expertise immediately available.
The journey proceeded to Colombo as per the schedule. The ship had reached Colombo on the night of 19 May and was anchored in the outer harbour awaiting a berth. However, the ship had not declared an emergency nor the cargo acid leak.
On the next day we began to witness the biggest maritime disaster in our sea. Now the ship is destroyed but kept a dark future for our marine life. Politicians mostly spoke about insurance claim and big compensation without taking the seriousness of this issue and not focussing on many unanswered questions. It is clearly reflecting their political immaturity. So, the big compensation is the end of the story? Well for my analysis it is not the end, rather it is the beginning of unearthing the 64-million-dollar questions. Up to today no one is trying to question the return leg of the journey that was supposed to be the final destination in Malaysia; the following questions trigger in my mind.
The biggest destruction to marine life as well as danger posed to our general public living along the coastal belt is the leakage of nitric acid to the sea.
Therefore, it is important to find out the origin of loading this 30 MT Nitric Acid and where it was supposed to unload. As we are aware the leakage was discovered after 2 May when the ship was in the mid-sea and made a request to unload in Hazira port in India then later at Hamad Port in Qatar but I have no information of the exact date of request. Let’s say the ship started traveling for two weeks towards Colombo Port after that request was made to those two ports. Why was this situation not informed to our port as they had ample time to inform before its arrival? When the ship had its berth in the Colombo outer harbour on 19 May and according the Sri Lankan port authority the ship had not declared an emergency nor the cargo nitric acid leakage.
So why had they failed to inform our port authority? They have requested to unload in two previous ports of other two countries that was not supposed to be originally unloaded there. However why haven’t they made the request to unload in Colombo Port when a serious matter was notified in the mid sea two weeks ago? Where actually was this container heading to? No request was made; may be the reasons were, ‘is our port the original destination? or are our port officials trying to cover up a request made by the ship captain already?’ If the request was not made or these containers’ original destination is not our port then why on the next day of the arrival had they started the process of taking the ship into the inner harbour?
I suppose there could be more ships awaiting in the outer harbour to enter into the inner harbour which would have arrived earlier than the X-Press Pearl ship. If the dangerous chemicals were supposed to arrive in Sri Lanka, then it should be given priority in the line than the other ships. However, our port officials stated there were no emergency requests. Then why was this ship given priority? Suppose it was not meant to arrive in Sri Lanka then our Government must find the origin and the destination of these containers. If the origin is from UAE or Qatar then they would have arranged some immediate operation in the mid-sea as they are accountable for the faulty packing that could be the reason for the leakage of nitric acid. However, Qatar simply denied the entry though the port is mainly working on oil and gas transporting which has more expertise facility than our local port.
Also, if the issue was with the packing and if Qatar is the origin, then the leakage could have been exposed before it reached the Hazira port in Gujarat. But the problem arose after it left the port Hazira. Therefore, it could be the origin for this consignment or the other loaded containers from that port could have triggered this chemical reaction. Hope our Government will make a note of it.
In the future there are possibilities of the glaciers collapsing in the South Pole that could trigger tsunamis and also under-sea earthquakes too could trigger tsunamis. It is the coral reefs that are guarding our coastal belt and the livelihoods. However, this nitric acid can destroy these reefs. Hope our lawmakers are aware of this danger to this tiny island.
(The writer is an International Human Rights Activist.)