Former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has called for the appointment of a Parliamentary Select Committee to look into the fire on the X-Press Pearl.
He said that if the explosion had taken place when the X-Press Pearl had entered the port of Colombo, the damage would have been worse.
“It could have destroyed all the buildings from the Colombo port to the Shangri-La Hotel,” he said.
The Prime Minister and leader of the United National Party (UNP) said that the ship arrived in the outer harbor of Colombo on the night of May 19 while on the 20th of May a Sri Lankan crew entered the ship.
“There they learned that there was a fire in the container boxes containing the chemicals stored on the ship. By May 25, the Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA) had informed the International Maritime Organization (IMO) that this area was in danger.
The Marine Environment Protection Authority warned that there is a risk of fire damaging the marine environment. This is referred to as a “Tier II” disaster. This means that if Sri Lanka finds it difficult to control the fire, it may need outside help,” he said.
The UNP leader said that although the International Maritime Organization (IMO) was notified of the need for assistance, neither the Government of Sri Lanka nor MEPA requested international assistance.
“Why did the government not enforce the existing laws between May 20 and May 25? That is the most important question. In such a situation the National Disaster Council can be convened under the Disaster Management Act. It has the potential to gather and declare a state of disaster in the coastal region,” he said.
Wickremesinghe said a National Disaster Council could be formed with the participation of 20 Ministers including the President and the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition and 5 Members of the Opposition.
“The National Council could have met and taken decisions on behalf of the Coast Guard. But no one made such a decision. If it had been declared that there would be a national disaster, we could have obtained foreign assistance to put out the fire. As the fire spread we got help to put out the fire from India. By then the fire was out of control because the notification to India had been delayed. Europe and East Asian countries have the greatest knowledge about the fires of such a chemical ship,” he said.
He also asked why the International Maritime Organization was not informed and international assistance to extinguish the fire requested.
The UNP leader said there is a risk of the destruction of the coral reef around Colombo in the Sri Lankan seas due to the mixing of nitric acid with seawater.
“It is because of the coral reef in Colombo that we survived the tsunami disaster. Therefore, I propose that a Parliamentary Select Committee be immediately appointed to \ inquire into the fire on this ship. There is a possibility of appointing members and appointing a Select Committee this week when Parliament meets. Accordingly, the Committee may meet in the first week of July to present a preliminary report on the environmental and economic damage caused by the ship fire,” he said.
Wickremesinghe said people have a right to know how the ship caught fire and why it could not be extinguished. (Colombo Gazette)