The Center for Environmental Justice (CEJ) today sought a fuller bench comprising five judges or more of the Supreme Court to hear a Fundamental Rights petition filed in connection with the X-Press Pearl disaster.
In a motion before the Supreme Court, the petitioner CEJ is seeking an order in terms of Article 132(3) of the Constitution comprising five or more judges of the Supreme Court to hear this petition, taking into account the public importance of the petition.
This petition had been filed by the Center for Environmental Justice (CEJ), its Executive Director, Hemantha Withanage, and two others, including a traditional fisherman living in Negombo.
The petitioners are seeking an order directing the authorities to conduct an independent and impartial investigation into the fire on the MV X-Press Pearl vessel.
Minister of Ports and Shipping, Marine Environment Protection Authority, Sri Lanka Ports Authority, Chairman of Port Authority General (Retd) Daya Ratnayake, Director General of Merchant Shipping A.W. Seneviratne, Central Environmental Authority, State Minister Nalaka Godahewa, Environment Minister Mahinda Amaraweera, X-Press Feeders Company, Sea Consortium Lanka (Pvt) Ltd., Attorney General, and several others were named as respondents in the petition.
The petitioners are further seeking an order directing the Attorney General to prosecute all state officials who have willfully failed to perform their statutory and regulatory duties.
The petitioners are also seeking an order directing X-Press Feeders Company (represented by its local agent, Sea Consortium Lanka (Pvt) Ltd) and Sea Consortium Lanka (Pvt) Ltd to pay compensation for the environmental damage and pollution caused to the marine and coastal ecology of Sri Lanka and the atmosphere under the ‘Polluters Pay Principle’.
The petitioners state that the blazing ship and the chemical spill and plastic pellets have already caused untold, irreversible, and irremediable damage to Sri Lanka’s marine ecosystem and pristine beaches, including popular tourist destinations whose beaches are thickly coated in plastic pellets. These plastic pellets used to make plastic bags are fatal to marine life, and dead sea turtles and fish have already begun washing up on beaches, raising fears of an unprecedented catastrophe.
The petitioners state that on May 20, 2021, the ‘MV X-Press Pearl,” which was enroute from the Indian port of Hazira to Singapore with 1,486 containers, caught fire as it waited to enter Colombo harbor and remained anchored some 9.5 nautical miles north-west of Colombo, waiting to enter the port.
Petitioners state that apart from the 325 metric tons of bunker oil, the vessel was loaded with 1,486 containers carrying 25 tons of hazardous nitric acid, caustic soda, sodium methylate, plastic, lead ingots, lubricant oil, quick lime, and highly reactive and inflammable chemicals such as sodium methodoxide, high density polyethylene (HDPE), low density polyethylene (LDPE), “lotrene,” vinyl acetate, methanol, bright yellow sulfur, urea, cosmetics, etc.
Petitioners state that Sri Lanka is in an enviable location in the Indian Ocean. The busy east-west shipping route passes just six to ten nautical miles south of the island. More than 60,000 ships ply this route annually, carrying two-thirds of the world’s oil and half of all container shipments.