Colombo, Express Pearl disaster worries Catholics and civil society
by Melani Manel Perera

The appeal to the government to intervene with the utmost urgency. The ship, with a cargo of 146 containers, went up in flames off the capital. The containers were loaded with nitric acid, ethanol, cosmetics and chemicals. Compensation is needed for fishermen, already affected by Covid-19.

Colombo (AsiaNews) - From the coasts of Colombo to the north-western sea, in Sri Lanka there is great concern about the environmental crisis - with inevitable repercussions on fishing - originating from the fire engulfing the Express Pearl, a ship flying the flag of Singapore off the capital.

The fear of a natural disaster is shared by activists, environmentalists and Catholic priests of Colombo and Negombo, who appeal to the government to intervene with the utmost urgency.

Reports from the Agency for the Development and Research of Nautical Resources (NARA) say the vessel caught fire off the coast of Colombo on 20 May, sparking a chain fire of the 146 containers on board that continued for five days. On board were crammed with nitric acid, ethanol, cosmetics and chemicals that risk causing a disaster of enormous proportions.

The commission of inquiry (CID) recorded the testimonies of the captain, the chief engineer, his deputy who were on board at the time of the accident, which created panic and fears among the population due to the impact on fishing activities. Hence the intervention of the Church and various priests, who appeal to the authorities for the protection of the rights of fishermen who "are not isolated communities, but citizens of this nation".

The local clergy are asking the executive to provide medium and long-term compensation to fishermen who have seen their business compromised, along with subsidies for lost working days. And to take action to obtain compensation from the insurance companies, promote all remediation and treatment activities in the area to prevent further damage in the future. From an environmental point of view, the priority is the protection and recovery of damage caused to the coasts and coral reefs.

The Negombo Citizens' Collective stresses that the Express Pearl disaster is only the latest in a series of problems, including the Covid-19 pandemic which has already dealt a severe blow to the economy of the area's inhabitants. "Immediate action is needed - reports the organization in a statement - to resolve the situation" because in the meantime the sea waters have changed colour, the air has become unbreathable due to the miasma and debris is accumulating on the beaches.

Meanwhile, the government authorities have issued a ban on fishing and consumption of fish from the area.