Experts assessing the environmental damage caused by the X Press Pearl wreck claim that a lack of resources and transparency are delaying their assessments.
“We don’t have an exact idea of what is in the cargo,” said expert team member Dr. Meththika Vithanage, Senior Lecturer at the University of Sri Jayewardenepura. According to Dr. Vithanage, the manifesto shared with the expert committee was incomplete.
“These grey areas make it very hard for us to assess accurately because we are working with half the information,” she noted. Some containers have unspecified content. “For example, some containers just name ‘resin’ as their content, which doesn’t help us because the resin can come in many forms all of which have to be assessed differently.”
The final environmental damage assessment will only be released once the wreckage is removed
Repeated requests made to the owner through MEPA for an accurate list have not received a response.
Apart from this, experts also struggled with the lack of analytical resources available to study the pollutants from the wreck.
“I don’t see a political will to assess the impact of this disaster,” she continued. The facilities required to assess these things aren’t available.
There are specific storage requirements needed to store contaminants. Toxic metals and biological samples have to be stored in different ways. Even these facilities came very slowly so by that point some of the samples had rotted. “We have to analyze live samples for persistent toxins and MEPA is trying their best but they’re also struggling with their resources availability.”
The teams were also concerned about the different types of nurdles and the partially bunt status which were breaking into micro plastics. “The next stage is for them to break into nano plastics which we won’t be able to mitigate.” The damage from the chemicals cannot be assessed yet and will depend on the long term assessment.
We do have resource deficits but we have mitigated them quite significantly by partnering with international laboratories,” said Dharshani Lahandapura, Chairperson of the Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA). Samples have been sent to the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture in the UK, an Australian Laboratory based in India, to two universities in Sweden and India as well as a laboratory in France. Apart from this the Government Analysts Department, the Building Research Organization (BRO), the University of Sri Jayawardenapura, and the National Aquatic Resources Research and Development Agency were collaborating with MEPA for analytical testing. Sri Lanka was also trying to get a turtle expert to work with local teams and Ms. Lahandapura noted that discussions were underway to receive European Union funding for it.
The first draft of the environmental damage assessment is expected to be finalised by November 30. The pollution is a live event until the wreck and container are removed from Sri Lankan waters. The final environmental damage assessment will only be released once the wreckage is removed. “The removal of the containers will be precarious,” Ms. Lahandapura agreed. The proposed plan is the use of a cradle like cover that divers will take down to the container to cover it with in order to avoid any spillage.
Whether or not the wreck can be towed remains to be seen. A company from Shanghai was due in Sri Lanka last week to assess the situation and decide how the wreckage will be towed. “The decision lies between towing it in its entirety and breaking it apart and taking it away.”
Nearly 300 containers have been identified for removal so far. No further claims have been made by MEPA apart from the 40 Mn USD claim of which 3.6 Mn USD have been paid to Sri Lanka. “We are only claiming for the expenses we incur right now and the invoices have been submitted to the Attorney General’s department through which the claim for the funds will be made.”
Ten crew members are still in custody as their testimony was an important part of the ongoing investigations.