06/08/2021, 16.40
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X-Press Pearl disaster, a warning to protect the oceans

by Melani Manel Perera

Today is World Oceans Day and this year’s theme is ‘The Ocean: Life & Livelihoods'. The latest incident off Sri Lanka’s coast highlights the problem. Hemantha Withanage calls the container ship a “toxic vessel” whose impact will last a thousand years. Herman Kumara notes that the lives of more than 100 million fishermen depend on the oceans.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – Protecting oceans and coastlines and safeguarding sea life and the livelihoods of people are increasingly at risk.

The sinking of the X-Press Pearl near the port of Colombo has brought the issue home to Sri Lanka since it is likely to have disastrous consequences for the local environment and for fishermen, whose long-term activities are seriously imperilled.

This grim reality is the background in Sri Lanka for the celebration today of World Oceans Day. The theme this year is 'The Ocean: Life & Livelihoods' to highlight the role of the seas in the production of oxygen and food as well as in the absorption of carbon dioxide.

First celebrated on 8 June 2008, the day takes on a particular significance for an island nation like Sri Lanka because of the partially sunken container ship lying just a few kilometres off its coast, its cargo of oil and chemicals contaminating the water, killing fish, dolphins, sea turtles and irreparably degrading the environment.

Speaking to AsiaNews  Hemantha Withanage, executive director of the Centre for Environmental Justice in Sri Lanka, describes the X-Press Pearl as “a toxic vessel”.

Since the ship began sinking, billions of plastic pellets have washed ashore between Colombo and Gampaha and could remain around for 500 or even a thousand years. Only half might be retrieved with the rest remaining in the sand.

The pellets could “absorb other pollutants” and transfer them through the food chain. If they are burnt, they could pollute the air through dioxin emissions.

Herman Kumara, national convenor of the National Fisheries Solidarity Movement (NAFSO) and former general secretary of the World Forum for Fisher People (WFFP), notes that life was born in the oceans and for this reason they must be respected and safeguarded.

The lives of more than 100 million fishermen worldwide depend on these vast bodies of water; every activity – from the transport of goods to tourism – is linked to the seas, which cover more than 70 per cent of our planet’s surface.

By “destroying the environment and the sea,” we destroy our very existence, Kumara warns. For this reason, World Oceans Day provides a good opportunity to rethink our ways of living and protect the environment, both in the sea and on land.

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