A petition to the Sri Lankan Supreme Court has called for damages of Rs 500,000 to each fisherman affected by the burning and sinking of container ship X-Press Pearl. On Wednesday, Rev. Fr. Sarath Iddamalgoda and two fishermen filed a fundamental rights petition at the court, seeking a direction to the authorities to compensate each fisherman affected by the disaster with Rs. 500,000.
The petitioners had cited the Minister of Fisheries Douglas Devananda, the Minister of Environment Mahinda Amaraweera, the Chairman of the Sri Lanka Ports Authority, Marine Environment Protection Authority, the Minister of Ports and Shipping Rohitha Abeygunawardena, and X-Press Feeders – the shipowners represented by the Sea Consortium Lanka (Pvt) Ltd (local agent) and others as respondents.
This petition had been filed via Manjula Balasooriya, the Attorney-at-Law.
The petitioners state that the Singapore-registered X-Press Pearl was on its way from Hazira port, India, to Singapore carrying 1,486 containers. The ship’s cargo comprised 25 tonnes of hazardous Sodium Methylate, Nitric Acid, Caustic Soda, Plastic, Lubricant Oil, Lead Ingots, and Quick Lime.
It had also been transporting inflammable chemicals like Low-Density Polyethylene, Vinyl Acetate, Sodium Methoxide, High-Density Polyethylene, Urea, Methanol, Bright Yellow Sulphur, and cosmetics.
This entire consignment comprised 46 types of chemicals categorized as dangerous goods per the International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG). The ship also had 300 tonnes of bunker oil on board.
The petitioners have said that those in Negombo, especially fishermen who are engaged in fisheries and related activities, have been severely affected by the contamination of sea areas and the loss of fishing grounds.
The petitioners also told that there are 15 fisheries districts around the marine area of the country. In the Western Province of Sri Lanka, fisheries and related activities are focused around Wellavidiya, Kudapaduwa, Negombo, Panadura, and Kalutara.
About 6,000 fishermen and their families reside along the stretch from Uswetakeiyawa to Negombo coastal, and about 2,000 boats go fishing in the ocean daily. Almost 7,753 fishermen, those employed in fishing-related activities, and their families have lost their job due to the shipwreck. On the other hand, more than 2000 families who had been employed in fisheries and related activities like drying fish or fish netting have no source of income at present.
The petitioners state that their livelihood has been threatened due to the ecological restriction directed by the Government as they upkeep lives from their daily wage as fishermen. As a result, they have been unable to conduct daily fishing activities for a fortnight.
The petitioners also fear that they may be suffering for years. They have sought a declaration stating that the respondents have violated the Fundamental Rights guaranteed under Articles 12(1) and 14(1) (g) of the Constitution.