In May 2021, a fire broke out onboard MV X-Press Pearl, a Singaporean container ship near Colombo harbor, causing severe damage to the ocean and coastal belt. Since the disaster, the coastline has been inundated with dead marine life, and micro-plastic nurdles have invaded the shallow waters and beaches.

The ship was carrying around 42 different chemicals and several other materials such as lithium-ion batteries, nitric acid, copper slags, and electronic goods that commonly contain hazardous heavy metals and Endocrine Disruptive Chemicals. These chemicals were ignited and mixed into the water during the fire, while gas from the flames contributed to air pollution. 

Unfortunately, Sri Lanka doesn’t have sufficient facilities or equipment to face this kind of accident. Additionally, the country has not ratified certain conventions regarding claiming compensations for this kind of damage. Therefore, FoE Sri Lanka/ Centre for Environmental Justice, together with two other parties, compiled a fundamental rights case seeking separate compensations for all affected parties, including fisherfolk and the environment, from the owners of the MV X-Press Pearl container vessel, its agents, Master of the ship, and all relevant government authorities. 

The plea includes;

  1. Justice against responsible officers that intentionally disregarded carrying out their duties, 
  2. Compensation to be managed under an appointed committee and to assure transparency in compensation to every deprived sector of the community, 
  3. Formulation of a national contingency plan to promptly respond to any future maritime disaster, 
  4. To order the safe disposal of plastic pellets and other debris released from the burning and sinking ship or issue an order directing the owner and local operator of the X-Press Pearl to re-export the debris, and
  5. To take measures to assess the air pollution and ratify necessary international conventions. 

CEJ also wrote the UN Special Rapporteur on toxics and human rights requesting to start an investigation to assess the comprehensive environmental damage and assist in restoring the damaged environment.

CEJ Sri Lanka appreciates international lobbying to assess this accident’s environmental and socioeconomic damage, seek compensation for all aggrieved parties, technical advisory, and assistance to restore Sri Lankan coastal zone.


For more information:
Hemantha Withanage
Centre for Environmental Justice