11/07/2022, 13.36
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Lawsuit filed with international court for environmental damages caused by X-Press Pearl sinking

by Arundathie Abeysinghe

The Sri Lankan government goes before the International Court of Arbitration in Singapore. Over a year ago, a container ship burnt for 13 days releasing dangerous chemicals into the sea, in what is Sri Lanka’s worst environmental disaster, with consequences lasting for decades.


Colombo (AsiaNews) – Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe instructed the country’s Justice Minister, Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, to file a case with the International Court of Arbitration in Singapore against X-Press Feeders, a Singapore-based container shipping group, seeking compensation for the sinking in June last year of its MV X-Press Pearl container ship.

On 20 May 2021, the X-Press Pearl, carrying a cargo of hazardous chemicals, caught fire while anchored about nine nautical miles off Colombo Harbour.

The vessel burnt for 13 consecutive days before sinking on 2 June, releasing a number of environmentally harmful chemicals into the sea. Now Sri Lanka is trying to claim compensation for environmental damages from the shipping company.

According to experts who spoke to AsiaNews, "the X-Press Pearl incident is the worst maritime disaster to have struck Sri Lanka, and it has had a significant impact on Sri Lanka’s sensitive coastal environment, local communities and the economy.”

In addition, the consequences of this disaster will “unfold for decades,” while “its active pollution generation phase will only come to a close with the elimination of the risks from the wreck and containers lost at sea.”

Despite the “uncertainties of environmental damage, the incident’s complexity stems from the range of pollutants involved, such as oil, hazardous chemicals and plastics”. As the latter spread in the sea, they are “expected to have transboundary impacts, further compounding the issue.”

One expert in maritime law believes that “compensation claims filed by other countries over similar incidents indicate that Sri Lanka should be able to secure a sum between US$ 5 billion and US billion”.

Shortly after the ship sank, Sri Lanka received US$ 3.6 million in July 2021, plus another US$ 1.75 million in January of this year. With the latest payment, the total paid by the ship’s insurer amounts to 7.85 million dollars.

The legal expert notes that “these payments are mostly to reimburse the government for the cost of the emergency response operations, including direct damages and cleanup."

Still, a prominent environmental lawyer told AsiaNews that "Sri Lanka has not ratified certain conventions that would have helped the island nation to file compensation claims for maritime disasters of this type and magnitude.”

For its part, the Centre for Environmental Justice, a local advocacy group, is also planning to file three lawsuits in connection with the X-Press Pearl disaster.

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