Sri Lankans face ‘immeasurable cost’ of cargo disaster | Sri Lanka
UUntil last week, Lucien Justin, chairman of Jude Watta’s fisheries committee in Wattala, near Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo, led a simple life. He and his wife ate two meals a day, and their small community of 90 fishermen regularly supported themselves with food and money. “If we fish, the money comes. Otherwise, we are hungry, ”he said.
After the worst maritime disaster in Sri Lanka’s history plagues the waters near where he fishes, he even fears that simple life is now in great danger. ” People are scared. Even if we caught fish, they wouldn’t eat it because they think it’s poisonous, ”he said.
The blaze may have been extinguished aboard the MV X-Press Pearl freighter, which has now partially sunk, but observers fear the worst impacts of the chemical ship disaster are yet to come.
The Singaporean-flagged container ship – traveling from Qatar to India, via Colombo to Singapore – was carrying 350 tons of bunker fuel, which authorities say could spill over and affect coastal communities. Fishing has been banned along the country’s west coast for about 50 miles. Cutting off access to the sea means cutting off the livelihoods of coastal communities like Justin’s.
Plastic pellets also spilled from the ship’s containers and washed up on the beaches. The Navy was called in to clean up the burnt wreckage and debris.
But other effects cannot be easily cleaned up – or even seen. The ship was carrying a variety of dangerous chemicals: nitric acid, used for explosives; epoxy resins, used for paints and primers; and ethanol and lead ingots, used in the manufacture of vehicle batteries.
There were other products as well: caustic soda, lubricating oils, aluminum by-products, polyethylene used for grocery bags and packaging, cosmetics and even food products, according to Hemantha Withanage. , environmental specialist and executive director of the Center for Environmental Justice in Sri Lanka. .
One container, Withanage noted, is named Substances harmful to the environment. “What are these substances? We do not know. The authorities haven’t told us yet, ”he said. “But why are they keeping this information secret? “
The sinking of the ship means the likely leaching of these chemicals into the ocean. “And this is a serious risk to our ecosystem,” he said, explaining that it could lead to the death and contamination of corals, fish, turtles and other marine life that abound off the coast. from the country.
Whales and dolphins frequent the oceans, and the coastal belt also provides nesting ground for sea turtles: of the seven types of sea turtles in the world, the Sri Lankan coast is home to five. As the ship caught fire, images circulated on social networks of fish, moray eels, rays and turtles washed up on the beaches.
After a fire broke out in the ship due to an acid leak that began on May 11, Qatar and India refused to allow the ship to unload its containers of chemicals, according to reports. “We saved the lives of 25 sailors,” Withanage said. “This is one of the biggest humanitarian actions we have taken, something we should be proud of, but it comes at an immeasurable cost to our entire environment.
People all over Sri Lanka are angry that the leaking ship has been kept in the country’s waters. On social media, many residents castigate what they see as government negligence, leading to environmental disaster.
Withanage says the lack of adequate equipment and a rapid response system in the country caused the blaze to spiral out of control, resulting in an explosion on the morning of May 25, six days after the blaze started. Indian emergency aid arrived on May 27. “The Sri Lankan unit used water to fight fires, which is wrong because when harmful agents like sodium methoxide react with water, it forms corrosive substances and starts a fire,” did he declare.
Diran Kamantha, 27, who works at the Pegasus Reef Hotel on Wattala Beach, is concerned about the potential devastation of the business.
“There are a lot of pellets on the beach. Some areas are black in color, with debris from the ship, ”Kamantha said. The hotel welcomes foreign and local tourists and organizes weddings. “It is sad because it is not only a bad image for our beaches and our hotel, but also for our whole country,” he said.
Withanage agrees that the disaster has not only poisoned the waters, but could deal a permanent blow to Sri Lanka’s reputation – and the confidence of its own people to eat the fish caught off its coasts.
“For people to eat fish again, there needs to be a change in mindset,” Withanage said, citing images of fish washed up on shore with plastic trapped in their gills. This plastic “will continue to be in our oceans for decades and decades to come, polluting our coastlines, ingested by marine life and entering our lagoon systems,” he said.
As the country continues to fight a new wave of Covid-19, with an average of 3,000 cases and 30 deaths per day, the government has imposed island-wide travel restrictions to keep people at the House. The impact this could have on beach cleaning is unclear. “I don’t think we have enough manpower now,” Kamantha said. “Everyone is at home and afraid to go out because we are fighting a deadly virus. “
As for Justin, the blow seems permanent. “This sea is our whole world,” he said. “Without fishing, we don’t know how we can continue to live.”