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Sunday, 26 August 2012





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Disaster management teams on alert in Panadura:

Oil prevented from reaching the shore

The latest environment disaster is taking place in the seas off Panadura as the ship Cyprus-flagged MV Thermopylae Sierra is sinking, making both parties of the dispute losers. A strip of oil, hundred metres in width and around five nautical miles long, has spread towards Colombo, as per the situation report available on Friday. The condition of the marine world underneath is yet to be estimated.

The MV Thermopylae sank six to eight nautical miles off the Panadura coastal line.

Thermopylae Sierra was a 155 metres long and 127 metres wide ship

A section of the damaged ship

The Disaster Management Centre currently working jointly with the Sri Lanka Navy said that hundreds of volunteers are trained to remove oil from the shores.

The director General of the Marine Environment Protection Authority Rear Admiral S.R. Samaratunga said that oil would not reach the coast unless there was a change in the direction of ocean currents.

Oil removed

According to the Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA) around 250 tons of oil was removed from the ship coordinated through the Director General of Commercial Shipping of the Ministry of Ports. Yet there is still nearly 70 tons of oil inside the damaged ship.

The threat still remains. According to the authorities several barrels of diesel are still inside as well. These were the fuel used by the power generators of the ship.

The Cyprus-flagged MV Thermopylae Sierra, made in 1985 was crossing the Sri Lankan Waters sailing towards Arabian zone when the dispute erupted between the ship employees and the owners. A court case was filed in the Commercial High Court of Sri Lanka and on a court order the ship was taken into custody and anchored in Sri Lankan waters.

Damaged interior of the ship

Thermopylae Sierra was a 155 metres long and 127 metres wide ship. It was carrying 15,612 tons of goods and 350 tons of oil at the time of the dispute. She was abandoned in the sea neglected and without maintenance since then. Due to the naturally occurring deterioration the ship was a threat to the marine environment and many parties reported the Environment protecting authorities to take appropriate action.


On May 3, 2012 Environment Minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, following an extended discussion with the relevant authorities, directed the removal of the ship to a safer place and to remove possible pollutants from the ship.

The MEPA, as per the Marine Pollution Prevention Act of 2008 has the powers to order the staff or the owners of ship to take a specified action to prevent pollution when there are clear evidence to a possible pollution. May 2012 was the season for Southwest monsoon. Thus the decision was taken to close damaged holes in the ship avoiding any oil leakage and take the ship to the seas off Trincomalee as the monsoon was not in effect in the East of the country. On May, the Cabinet of Ministers were informed about the action the Ministry of Environment took and the Cabinet of Ministers have clearly given directions on what need to be done on their decisions taken on May 23.

On May 25, while the repair work was going on, the Director General of Commercial Shipping informs the MEPA the court order to halt the removal of the ship as the ship owners have forwarded an appeal in the Court of Appeal of Sri Lanka. According to the Ministry of Environment, the Courts have given permission for the owners to take the ship to a safer place yet the owners neglected to do so. Though the MEPA authorities appeared in the courts at the case hearings in June and July 2012 the court decision was only extended. Thus, the MEPA had not been able to take any action to remove the ship from the Panadura sea, according to the Ministry of Environment.

Though there are legal provisions for Sri Lanka to claim damages from the owners and MEPA will be taking legal action against the ship owners the damage to the marine environment will be repairable. The only option that remains is preventing an extensive damage to the environment. Action is taken to prevent oil flowing towards the coast. According to MEPA oil booms and dispersant would be put in place if the need arises. Booms are one of the tools that oil cleanup crews are using to prevent the oil contamination of the beach. The oil reaching the shore depends on the direction of the water currents, wind speed and the strength of the waves. According to the Ministry of Environment, MEPA jointly with the Disaster Management Centre are constantly on the alert to prevent any such disaster.



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