June 06, Colombo: Former Prime Minister and Leader of the United National Party Ranil Wickremesinghe has proposed to immediately appoint a Parliamentary Select Committee to look into the fire on the MV X-Press Pearl container ship as the Parliament is scheduled to convene this week.
Issuing a special statement today, Wickremesinghe said if the explosion had taken place when the X-Press Pearl had entered the port of Colombo, the damage would have been catastrophic. “It could have destroyed all the buildings from the Colombo port to the Shangri-La Hotel,” he said.
The former Premier explained that the ship arrived in the outer harbor of Colombo on the night of May 19 and on the 20th of May a Sri Lankan crew entered the ship. There they learned that there was a fire in a container containing the chemicals stored on the ship. By May 25, the Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA) had informed the International Maritime Organization (IMO) that the sea area would be in danger.
“The Marine Environment Protection Authority warned that there is a risk of fire damaging the marine environment. It is called a “Tier II” disaster. This means that if Sri Lanka finds it difficult to control the fire, it may need outside help,” he said.
Although the International Maritime Organization (IMO) was notified of the need for assistance, neither the Government of Sri Lanka nor MEPA requested international assistance.
“Why did the government not enforce the existing law between May 20 and May 25? That is the most important question. In such a situation the National Council can be convened under the Disaster Management Act. It has the potential to convene and declare a state of disaster in the coastal region.”
The UNP leader explained that the National Council could be formed with the participation of 20 Ministers including the President and the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition and 5 Members of the Opposition.
“The National Council appointed in this manner could have met and taken decisions for the protection of the coast. But no one made such a decision. If it had been declared that there would be a national disaster we could have obtained foreign aid to put out the fire.”
“As the fire spread we got help to put out the fire from India. But by then the fire was out of control because the notification to India had been delayed. Europe and East Asian countries have the greatest knowledge about the extinguishing such chemical fires in a ship.”
Questions arise as to why the International Maritime Organization was not informed, why the international assistance to extinguish the fire was requested and why did the fire was allowed to grow and let the ship go to the point of destruction? Why didn't we think about the damage to our future economy and the damage to the environment from the ship fire? The government and the Marine Environment Protection Authority should have thought about these matters,” Wickremesinghe said.
“There is a risk of destruction of the coral reef around Colombo in the Sri Lanka Sea due to the mixing of nitric acid with seawater. It is because of this coral reef in Colombo that we survived the tsunami disaster. Colombo will be unsafe in the event of a tsunami if this coral reef is destroyed,” the former Premier pointed out.
“Therefore, I propose to appoint a Parliamentary Select Committee immediately to look into the fire on this ship as Parliament convenes this week.”
“There is a possibility of nominating members and appointing a select committee this week itself. Accordingly, the Committee can meet in the first week of July to present a preliminary report on the environmental and economic damage caused by the ship fire.”
“People have a right to know how the ship caught fire and why it could not be extinguished. Also, the people have a right to know what steps we will take with regard to the ship. We urge the government to implement it expeditiously,” former Prime Minister stressed.