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Sunday, 8 March 2015





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Government Gazette

Seas around Sri Lanka vulnerable to oil spills

The sea around Sri Lanka is highly vulnerable to an oil spill, as twenty-five percent of the world’s oil transportation, which runs up to 550 million tons per annum, passes via Sri Lanka’s exclusive economic zone.

Though Sri Lanka had not faced huge disasters due to oil spills in Sri Lankan waters, except for a few incidents which were reported around the country during the past few decades, the risk of an oil spill is high around Sri Lanka.

According to the reported incidents of oil spills around Sri Lanka, the most prominent oil spill was reported in August 1999 when MV Meliksha which was carrying 16,500 mt fertiliser and about 200 mt of heavy fuel oil was reported in distress off Dondra with head sinking.

The crew was rescued by a passing by vessel and the master abandoned the vessel out side the territorial waters of Sri Lanka.

The vessel continued to sink and drift away from the coast of Sri Lanka into deep waters. Sri Lanka based salvage company, Sri Lanka Shipping Ltd had taken the abandoned vessel and anchored if off the coast of Hambantota.

It was reported that that MV Melishka ran aground about 1,000 m of Bundala coast following the grounding the vessel had broken up and the reports show that the fuel and the fertiliser released to the sea caused damage to the marine environment.

In 2006, the MV Amanat Shah carrying teak logs from Burma to Bangladesh developed engine trouble and sank 11 kms off Koggala, causing a hazardous oil-spill of 25 metric tons and releasing over 800 logs into the sea.

Marine traffic

According to maritime experts though Sri Lanka has faced few such incidents a potential threat of oil spill does exist in Sri Lanka waters as a total of some 525 million tonnes of oil is transported in tankers, for a year within the EEZ and close to out side of this zone.

The density of marine traffic in Sri Lanka’s coastal waters is high as Sri Lanka, borders the main East-West shipping route used by ships sailing to and from the industrial centres of the Far East and the West.,

The vulnerability of oil spills is also high as crude oil imported to Sri Lanka is pumped to the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation’s land based storage tanks via an under-sea pipeline from the offshore single point buoys mooring off the port of Colombo.

The terminal is operated through-out the year, even during monsoon period and approximately two tankers carrying 120,000 tonne parcels of crude oil are transferred to the tanks ashore every month.

Japanese experts train Coast Guard personnel

According to marine pollution prevention experts the operations of Trincomalee Oil Tank Farm, the expansion and development of ports and new constructions of ports and the existing marine services industry, including offshore supply of bunkers and ship repairing industry will further increase the vulnerability for oil spills around Sri Lanka.

With Sri Lanka carrying out oil exploration in the Mannar basin, the potential threat will be further increased.

Japanese help

The Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA), the apex body which was set up under the Marine Pollution Prevention Act No. 35 of 2008 is responsible for the prevention of marine pollution and related activity and it bears the sole responsibility to prevent, control, and manage the pollution of Sri Lanka’s Marine Environment. National Oil Spill Contingency Plan (NOSCOP) which has been formulated by the institution is now being implemented with other stakeholder agencies as a response to any unexpected oil spill.

Considering Sri Lanka’s vulnerability for such an oil spill and its lesser preparedness towards facing such a calamity the Japanese Government has come forward to assist Sri Lanka to manage such situation by providing training and the equipment.

The Sri Lanka Coast Guard as an stakeholder in protecting the coastal belt of Sri Lanka and preventing and minimizing marine pollution, took the opportunity to undergo a training program for its cadre with the assistance of Japanese marine environment protection and oil spill measures experts headed by Lt Commander Tanaka and Lt. Sasaki Japanese from the National Strike team of Japan Coast Guard.

According to Captain Indunil Ratnayake, the Security Advisor to the Japanese Embassy in Colombo along with the Japan International Cooperation Agency the Coast Guard cadres from Sri Lanka undergone this training from January 25 to February 18, 2015.

Japan has good diplomatic relations with Sri Lanka for 62 years to properly equip the country to manage oil spills is noteworthy as Sri Lanka is heavily dependent on the tourism and fishing industry, he said.

Poorly equipped

“Many people in the coastal belt depend on the tourism industry and on the fisheries industry in the country.

If we are faced with such oil spill disaster the country will face an economic calamity as such oil spill which can made a huge impact on the livelihood of the people,” he added. Oil spills include release of crude oil from tankers, offshore platforms, drilling rigs and wells and spills of refined petroleum products (such as gasoline, diesel) and its by-products and heavier fuels used by large ships such as bunker fuel, or the spill of any oily white substance or waste oil and spills may take months or even years to clean up.

“Although we are an island nation we have not given top priority on managing oil spills in our territorial waters. Though we have institutions to manage such oil spills they are poorly equipped to handle large-scale oil spills.

Captain Indunil Ratnayake

Although the Colombo Port has a little equipment to handle oil spills within the harbour limits, managing an oil spill in the mid sea close to Sri Lanka is difficult for them.

They have to bring equipment from India to handle such situations. By the time the equipment are brought to Sri Lanka the oil spill may have spread widely in the sea,” he added.

Considering all the aspects, Sri Lanka has to face in the event of an oil spill, and as a country which has specialised in managing oil spills due to frequent mishaps in Japan and the Asian region, Japan decided to provide equipment and training to manage such oil spills.


Japanese expert team headed by Lt Commander Tanaka and Lt. Sasaki oil spill measures experts from the National Strike team of the Japanese Coast Guard conducted the two weeks training for the Sri Lanka Coast Guard personnel with the cooperation extended by JICA in Sri Lanka. The training was conducted at Mirissa Coast Guard Headquarters.

“During the training sessions six officers and 30 other ranks from the Sri Lanka Coast Guard were given theoretical and practical knowledge using the models of the equipment the Japanese government is going to donate to Sri Lanka Coast Guard in the future,” Captain Ratnayake added.

At the next stage the Japanese Government will present over 13 containers with new equipment to manage oil spills to the Sri Lanka Coast Guard enabling them to use them in the event of an oil spill in the sea around Sri Lanka.

“We are now prepared to face a tsunami after we had the worst experience in the history of our country following the tsunami in December 2004.

Since oil spills take place frequently in other countries such as Japan they are well prepared to face such eventualities. Since they are properly equipped and trained they know how to react to the situation immediately.

Therefore, this training program came handy for the Sri Lanka to manage oil spills,” he added.

The training program has resulted due to the agreement signed between Japan and Sri Lanka on Maritime Cooperation and Japan will further assist Sri Lanka Coast Guard by donating two brand new vessels for the Coast Guard.

“A Japanese team had made an assessment report about the required two vessels for the Sri Lanka Coast Guard considering its operational centres, its needs and ability to maintain vessels before the deciding on the type of vessels they are going to donate Sri Lanka,” he said.

Director, Coast Guard, Rear Admiral S. S. Ranasinghe and Deputy Director General of the Sri Lanka Coast Guard, Commodore Samarasinghe said that they were happy to receive such training.

“We have not yet properly concentrated on this subject as Sri Lanka had not faced a huge disaster of this nature as yet.”

Sri Lanka as a maritime hub in the Asian region should welcome such training programs as it will help to keep Sri Lanka in top position in its preparedness to manage oil spills in the regional level also.

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